The first topic that Parshat Chayei Sarah discusses is the burial of Sarah, for which Avraham buys Me’arat HaMachpeilah from Efron the Chitti for four hundred shekels. When the Chittim agree to allow Avraham to bury Sarah, he asks for Efron, to whom Avraham Avinu insists that he pay the full price for the land. Efron maintains that Avraham need not pay at all, but finally agrees to allow him to pay fully.
From a simple reading of the text, it would appear that Efron is truly a nice guy with no desire for money. However, Chazal view him in a completely different light. After Avraham buys the land, Rashi comments to 23:16 that the name “Efron” is spelled without a Vav. He explains that this letter is missing to show that even though Efron continues to insist that Avraham pay nothing, he eventually takes a greater amount of money from Avraham than is necessary. Chazal clearly look at Efron as a hypocrite, and certainly not as a Tzadik. Why do they view him in this light?
Perhaps the answer lies in the word “Efron HaChitti,” “Efron the Chitti.” These people known as Chittim are descendents of Chet the son of Canaan (son of Noach’s son Cham). In Parshat Noach, Cham performs some type of sinful act upon his father (it is not clear from the text exactly what Aveirah he does; see Rabbi Jachter’s article on the topic on www.koltorah.org), for which Noach curses him. When describing the sin Cham performs, the Torah calls him “Cham Avi Chenaan,” “Cham, the father of Canaan” (9:22). The Torah’s emphasizing that he was “the father of Canaan” may be showing that this personality of sin is continuous in the genes of the family. Chet, the grandson of Cham, has in him this personality trait that is found in all of the Chitti family. In fact, when the Torah later lists two idol-worshipping wives whom Eisav marries, it calls them both “HaChitti” (26:34). This is why the Torah says that “Efron was sitting amongst the children of Chet” (23:10) – to let us know that Efron continues the practices of that tribe of Chittim who were idol worshippers and sinners.
Now we can understand where Chazal are coming from. It is impossible to understand how Efron, a descendant of the notorious people of Chet who perpetuated their activities, could possibly be a righteous person. Although he may have seemed nice and friendly, in essence he was a hypocrite and liar. Perhaps this can shed light on what Avraham said when he came to the land of the Chitti: “I am a stranger and sojourner with you” (23:4). Avraham may be saying that he is not like these sons of Chet and does not want to be associated with them as Efron is. Avraham knows that Efron is not someone who should be emulated, so he makes a declaration that he is not like Efron or his people.
One message that emerges from this is the importance of associating with a proper group. One can either imitate Efron, who has engrained in himself the values of a terrible group of people, or one can be like Avraham Avinu, who refuses to be considered part of such a Chevra, instead living and placing himself with the righteous. Through Avraham’s approach, one can develop proper Midot and Ahavat and Yirat Hashem. Truly, as Chazal say, “woe to the wicked and woe to his neighbor; good for the righteous one and good for his neighbor” (Sukkah 56b).