In the view of the Ohel Moshe, by the verse using the word vatich’tov (“and she wrote”), which is a singular, feminine verb, it intends to emphasize Esther’s role because she risked her life approaching Achashverosh (Esther 4:16) in order to save the Jewish people1.
The Ginzei HaMelech wonders why Megillas Esther is attributed to Esther if both she and Mordechai co-authored the work. He suggests that Esther deserves the bulk of the credit because the Talmud (Megilla 7a) records how Esther insisted on Purim’s perpetuity, arguing with the reluctant Sages about writing this book to remember her “for generations.” This is why Megillas Esther is attributed to her.
According to the Alshich, another reason why Megillas Esther is attributed to Esther is because it was her idea (Esther 5:4) to have the series of feasts in which she finally accused Haman of his perfidy. to stress that all was ultimately accomplished through the power of prayer.
Esther thus added to the text, as the Ginzei HaMelech makes clear, an emphasis of the actions over the events.
Furthermore, as R’ Eliyahu Dessler writes, the very fact that Esther began Megillas Esther with the Achashverosh’s feast over a decade before Haman’s decree shows that the threat to our existence started then, as the Jews’ Sages like Mordechai were warning at the time.
1Similarly R’ Chaim Shmulevitz writes in Sichos Mussar (Vayikra) that the name the Torah uses for Moshe out of the ten alternatives listed in the Midrash (Vayikra Rabba 1:3) is meant to emphasize the mesiras nefesh (“self-sacrifice”) of Basya, the daughter of Pharaoh, who gave him that name.
According to the Midrash, the Jews killed the enemies inside their houses with the sword, but killed those who were outside with other methods. Those who were hiding needed to be brought out to the battlefield.
The Alshich explains that some gentiles openly threatened the Jews, while others harbored hate privately. Each group received a punishment commensurate with their behavior – some were wounded with the sword, some were killed, and yet others were destroyed together with their possessions.
The Maharal points out that hitting the enemies with the sword could potentially kill them, and once they are killed, they may need to be buried. But once they are destroyed, the enemies are gone.
R’ Moshe Katzenellenbogen writes that, in big cities, Jews could only kill bigger, more obvious enemies. In the smaller cities, the Jews stripped the weaker leaders of their power and humiliated them.
The Vilna Gaon explains these three methods were utilized at different stages of the battle. During the first stage, the Jews used swords, then graduated to burning those hiding out of the buildings, and finally arrested the residents.
The Ben Ish Chai points out that the rearranged initial letters (not counting the article letter vuv‘s) of makas cherev vi’hereg vi’avdal (“striking of the sword, and killed, and destroyed”) spell out the word emcheh (“I will destroy”). H-Shem (Shemos 17:14) uses this very word in His promise to eradicate Amalek, the nation responsible for this massacre. He also points out that these three expressions parallel Haman’s plan (Esther 3:13) to kill, destroy, and annihilate the Jews. The Jews merited to overcome this triple fate by fasting for three days (Esther 4:16).
R’ Dovid Feinstein writes that the destruction in this verse refers to the Jews destroyed the property of their enemies. This was done to demonstrate that their intent was not to conquer the wealth of others. Perhaps this was also intentionally contrary to Achasverosh’s order (Esther 4:11) in order to have the excuse that they could not take the possessions, since they were destroyed.
2. The Yehudim congregated in their cities in all of the states of King Achashverosh to send their hand against those who sought bad for them. And a man did not stand before them because the fear of them fell on all the nations.
The Rosh writes that the verse stresses that the Jews gathered because they came together to pray and fast. As is mentioned in Halacha (Mishna Berura 686:2), this is the reason for fasting on Taanis Esther before Purim.
There is a power in numbers, and congregating can have powerful affects, so R’ Aryeh Leib Tzonetz and the Sfas Emes note that Haman’s spiritual power was due to the Jews being splintered and separate (Esther 3:8). Therefore, the intent of this verse, Mordechai’s order for the Jews to be gathered before Esther approached Achashverosh (Esther 4:16), and even the mishloach manos gifts (Esther 9:19) after the miracle was to unify the Jewish people.
In asking why Esther asks for her life first, the Maharal actually strengthens the question by pointing out that her life was not being threatened at this point at all since the king did not know she was a Jewess. Even if he were to know and include her in the decree, she still would not need to mention herself independently, since she would then be logically included in the general category of Jews.
Rashi answers that Esther felt she should have been killed as per the decree.
R’ Dovid Feinstein explains that she knew Achashverosh had more sympathy for her.
The Dena Pishra adds that Eshter was saying that she cares about Achashverosh’s good above all else. Convincing this evil tyrant through the paradigm that concerns him – his own selfish wants – she is explaining that killing the Jewish people would cause him to lose his greatest supporter, herself. Similarly, he continues, Esther implied that, as she was innocent, so too are all of the Jews innocent.
Yosef Lekach and R’ Moshe David Valle point out that Esther asked for her life as a minor request, and the people as her major plea. From her perspective, her own life was not as important as the life of her nation.
R’ Yehonason Eibshutz quotes the Talmud (Shabbos 148a) that a she’aila is for the short-term present, whereas a bakasha is for the long-term forever.
The Ginzei HaMelech quotes the Midrash (Shemos Rabba 30:4) that since Esther risked her life for the Jews, the Jewish people are called “Esther’s people.” Although this Midrash is commenting on the verse (Esther 4:16) about her risking her life by appearing before Achashverosh uninvited, Esther risked her life in other instances, as well – as in this verse in which Esther asks for her life in a she’aila, as though it were something inconsequential and ephemeral in comparison to the existence of her people.
Earlier in Esther (5:6), the Malbim wrote that a request is just a request, but a petition is the reason for the request. Therefore, her ultimate desire is for the people’s survival.
The Malbim also writes that Esther mentioned herself first to imply that she was Haman’s intended target.
According to R’ Dovid Feinstein, Esther has the Jews fast again later (4:16) because an individual action is never as powerful as a national action. The Jews here decided to fast based on their own opinions. Esther organized a fast later in order to bind them as a cohesive unit.
10. And Esther did not reveal her nation and her lineage because Mordechai commanded her not to reveal.
Rashi gives two reasons for Esther to not reveal her lineage. First, if she were to reveal that she was Jewish, she would be dismissed from the contest since Jews were then seen as the lowest of the low. On the other hand, her lineage was from King Shaul, and Achashverosh might prize that information, reveling in the fact that he’s marrying Jewish royalty. Either she will get dismissed and lose the opportunity to do this important deed for her people, or she will have to sacrifice her holiness in being chosen by the king.
Malbim writes that this verse demonstrates that Esther resisted being swayed by the luxuries and creature comforts afforded her by Heigai (see previous verse).
The Binyan Ariel points out that the reason Vashti was removed to begin with is that Achashverosh wanted to show off the beauty of her nation to the dignitaries at his party to prove that women of her nation were the most beautiful. If Achashverosh does not know Esther’s nationality, he would not do the same with her. If he were to have attempted this, Esther would have refused, leading to another dead queen.
A Purim-Torah suggestion regarding the actual word “higida” (“related”): Perhaps this word is used because, as we shall see with H-Shem’s Help when we get to 4:16, Esther and Mordechai annulled Pesach in the year of the Purim miracle (Talmud, Megillah 15a), and there was therefore no Pesach Seder with its accompanying Haggadah. Thus, “lo higida Esther” may be interpreted as “Esther annulled the Haggada.”
According to the Midrash (Esther Rabbah 4:5), this word, “bamalka,” is meant to contrast what occurred in the 1 case of Vashti with the case of Esther, who also acts out of line with “k’das” (“the law”) (Esther 4:16) when she attempts to visit the king uninvited. G-d Willing, we will learn more about that verse when we get there.