When Avraham originally confronts Efron about buying Maarat Hamachpelah, Efron says, “Hasadeh Natati Lach Vehamearah Asher Bo Lecha Nitateha…Kivor Maitecha,” “I have given you the field, and as for the cave that is in it, I have given it to you… bury your dead” (23:11). Four Pesukim later, Efron says, “Eretz Arba Maot Shekel Kesef Baini Uvainecha Mah He Veet Maitecha Kvor,” “Land worth four hundred silver shekels; between me and you what is it? Bury your dead” (23:15).
Why did Efron change his mind so easily? At first he appears to be a wonderful gentleman who opened his land to Avraham as a place to bury Sarah without asking for any compensation. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Efron shows a different side to himself as he acts as though he would give the property to Avraham for a mere four hundred silver shekels, a huge amount of money. Something must have happened to cause this sudden change. What was it?
There is a famous story told concerning the Rambam. The Rambam had an argument with a group of secular philosophers who believed that cats could be trained to act as humans. They felt that with the proper training and environment that the animals could be transformed. The Rambam argued that it was impossible to change the nature of an animal. Therefore, they established a test date when the philosophers’ cats would be put to a test.
It happened that the Sultan would be visiting on that day and that he would observe the cats and judge their humanness. The day came and many people came to watch as the cats set the table for the Sultan and his entourage. Each dignitary was assigned a specific seat as the Sultan was put at the head of the table. Word was spreading that the Rambam’s theory was wrong. However, the Rambam sat there undisturbed by what was happening. The meal began and the cats came out of the kitchen carrying large pots with hot soup. Everyone was impressed by the poise with which the cats carried the soup. However, as soon as the cats neared the table the Rambam took out a little bag that he had in his pocket. He opened it up and a mouse came out. As soon as the cats saw the mouse they dropped the pots to chase the mouse. This caused the soup to spill all over the guests.
Everyone at the meal was now fully aware of the Rambam's lesson. The philosophers succeeded in superficially training the cats but their nature could not be changed. A cat will always be a cat.
Likewise, as long as Efron did not see the money he could act dignified. However, as soon as Avraham offered him money Efron reverted to his usual ways. Human nature is difficult enough to change when we try so what can we expect from Efron who was comfortable with himself?