To explain Ephron's behavior, Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv, head of the great 19th century Lithuanian Yeshiva in KeIm, quoted a story about a debate which occurred between the Rambam and the "wise men of the world". The wise men claimed that it was possible to alter the very nature of an animal by teaching it to act in a civilized manner, while the Rambam disagreed. To prove their point, the wise men accepted upon themselves to train a cat to act in a humanized fashion within a given period of time.

When the appointed day arrived, the large crowd gathered was astonished to witness a cat gracefully walking before them like a waiter, setting up tables, spreading tablecloths, and pouring glasses of wine. Everyone was prepared to award victory to the wise men, that is until the Rambam reached into his pocket and pulled out a small mouse which he then threw onto the stage. Suddenly the cat dropped everything, wine spilling and glasses breaking everywhere, so that it could chase the tiny mouse, thereby reverting back to its true animal self. Immediately they turned to the Rambam and acknowledged the truth of his principle: While it may be possible to train an animal to go through particular motions, it will always remain an animal because it is impossible to change its true nature.

A similar phenomenon occurred to Ephron. As long as he had not yet seen the alluring sparkle of precious coins, he was able to behave in an ethical and respectful manner. However, once Abraham offered to pay a fair price for the field (ibid. 23:13), and he opened up his checkbook, Ephron was instantaneously transformed into a different man, just like the cat when it saw the mouse. He heard the enticing call of money and suddenly realized that this was the chance of a lifetime to make a huge profit. He threw away all of his morals and values in order to make a quick buck...Think about it...

Good shabbos!

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