I have given you the field, and as for the cave that is in it, I have given it to you; in the view of the children of my people have I given it to you. (Gen. 23:11,15)

Avraham set out to buy the Cave of Machpela and the field surrounding it from Efron Hachiti. Efron said to Avraham "Don't bother paying for it. I'll give you both the field and the cave as a gift!" Shortly after, Efron changed his mind and set the price at 400 silver shekels. What happened?! Why did he suddenly change from being overly generous to being a greedy man?

Many years ago the Rambam had a debate with philosophers. The philosophers claimed that a cat's nature could be altered to be like that of a human being. The Rambam said, "An animal will always remain an animal." The philosophers went about proving their theory. They took a cat and spent weeks training it, and were finally ready to present their case. Everyone gathered to see what would happen. In walked a cat dressed as a waiter, carrying a tray with wine and glasses. Everyone was amazed. The Rambam, on the other side of the room, took a bag out of his pocket, opened it, and a mouse came out. The cat saw it, dropped the tray and dashed across the room to catch the mouse! Everyone then agreed with the Rambam; you can definitely train a cat, but you can't change a cat's nature.

Efron was the same. When Avraham asked him for the cave, they were in front of all the B'nei Cheis. Therefore Efron said that it was free, thinking, "Why not let everyone think that I am a nice guy?" When Avraham wanted to pay for it and was holding a wad of bills, Efron saw the money and forgot about everything he had said. He just wanted the cash, so he charged Avraham an enormous amount.(1)

Some people appear very pleasant and friendly, but if someone steps on their toe or spills something on them they go berserk. These people never truly changed their nature. When things are calm and going their way they are able to act nicely, but inside they are capable of exploding at the slightest infraction. By contrast, a person who truly changes his nature - through self-introspection, examination and work - will be in total control of his attitude in every single situation. He won't be affected by external circumstances.

NOTES

1. The Alter of Kelm (Lekach Tov).