12. And the king said to Esther the Queen, “In Shushan the capital, the Yehudim killed and destroyed five hundred man and the ten sons of Haman. In the remaining states of the king, what did they do? What do you ask and it will be given you. And what do you request more and it will be done.”
In the first half of this verse, the tone seems to imply that Achashverosh was upset about the casualties. In fact, the Midrash Lekach Tov writes that Achashverosh was actually upset about his dead citizens, but H-Shem controls leaders, as the verse (Mishlei 21:1) teaches that the hearts of kings are in the Hands of H-Shem.
R’ Dovid Feinstein points out that the tone of the second half of the verse certainly sounds as though Achashverosh seems unaffected by this loss of life.
The Talmud (Megillah 16b) describes this sudden change of heart as an angel “slapping him on his lips.”
R’ Mendel Weinbach suggests that such a slap has this effect because Achashverosh suddenly felt Heaven did not want him speaking in an upset manner toward Esther. It literally hurt to speak the way he had been.
Interestingly, the Midrash (Bireishis Rabba 92:7) notes this verse as one of ten kal v’chomer (“a fortiori”) arguments in TaNaCh. In other words, if the Jews killed 500 people in Shushan, how much more likely did they kill more elsewhere!
In fact, the Alshich points out that Achashverosh must have been thinking that if so many were killed in Shushan – where the informed public was ready for a fight – how much more-so in other parts of the kingdom!
On the other hand, the M’nos HaLevi quotes R’ Gakon’s opinion that the bloodthirsty Achashverosh was disappointed that such a relatively small number of his people were killed after the Jews had from Pesach until Adar 13th to prepare for battle. This is why he asked if he could do more to help.
Malbim explains that Achashverosh did not know there would be so many Jew-haters. From a place of genuine concern, he offers Esther more help.
5. And King Achashverosh said and he said to Esther the queen, “Who is he? And where is he who fills his heart to do like this?”
According to the Ibn Ezra, Achashverosh repeats himself due to agitation and excitement.
The Midrash Lekach Tov says there was an implied conversation here: Achashverosh asked his guards, “who did this?” The response was, “Haman.” Achashverosh responds with, “He couldn’t have…”
Similarly, the Alshich writes that Achashverosh spoke twice to ask whether Esther meant him or Haman, or whether she was accusing both of them.
The Vilna Gaon says that he spoke twice because he was speaking about the two different topics Esther brought up, he request and her plea. Regarding the former, he was asking who would kill Esther; regarding the latter, he was asking who would kill a nation.
The Talmud (Megillah 16a) explains that Achashverosh would previously usually speak to Esther through an interpreter. Now that she tells him that she is Jewish, and a descendant of King Shaul – and thus also royal – he speaks to her directly, as is fitting for nobles. For all of this time, he did not respect her as an equal.
M’nos HaLevi adds that this interpretation also explains why the verse uses the otherwise seemingly redundant word, hamalka (“the queen”).
Rebbetzin Heller writes that Achashverosh spoke directly to Esther to further humiliate Haman.
R’ David Feinstein points out that this genealogy also explains Haman’s hate for Esther. After all, Shaul had spared Agag, and people tend to hate those to whom they feel beholden. He references the Talmud (Chullin 139b) that asks for an allusion to Haman in the Torah. It answers there that it is in the verse (Bireishis 3:11) “did you eat from the tree?,” wherein the word “hamin” (“from the”) is spelled with the same letters as “Haman.” Since this story highlights the very essence of man’s ingratitude, it is a fitting allusion.
Both R’ Moshe David Valle and the Brisker Rav say that Achashverosh is speaking twice because he indeed spoke twice, from both ends of his mouth – what he said to Haman while making the deal (Esther 3:9), and what he said to Esther now.
The Kedushas Levi quotes the AriZal’s explanation of the Talmudic idea (Sukkah 27b) that a person should see one’s rebbi on Shabbos and Yom Tov. He explains that being close to one’s rebbi allows their holiness to rub off. Based on this, the Kedushas Levi writes that even though Achashverosh hated the Jews, he seems to care about them in this verse due to the direct communication with Esther has allowed for some of her holiness to rub off on him.