In this week’s parshah Hashem tells Noach to build a teivah, for as the pasuk says, “assei lecha teivas… – you shall make for yourself a teivah” (Bereishis 6:14). Hashem also instructs Noach to bring with him foods and provisions, for as the pasuk says, “v’ata kach lecha mikal ma’achal – and you shall take for yourself of every food” (6:21). Generally when the Torah writes “lecha,” it is to exclude stolen materials. As we find regarding the mitzvah of taking the four minim on the first day of Sukkos that they must not be stolen in order for you to fulfill this obligation, the pasuk says “lachem.” So why was it necessary to tell Noach not to steal the materials and provisions for the teivah? Why would he have thought otherwise?
The Kli Yakar understands the pasuk to mean the exclusion of stolen materials, and is bothered by the abovementioned question. He answers that the Torah felt the need to reiterate to Noach that he should not steal because there was room for one to err and think that since all of the people were going to die and all of their possessions were destined to be destroyed, perhaps one can already take his possessions for himself. Therefore the Torah wrote the word “lecha” to exclude stolen materials.
The Kli Yakar’s answer is difficult to understand, for why would one think that if another person is going to die and his possessions are destined to be destroyed, he could take those possessions for himself? As long as the individual is still alive and his possessions are still intact, they belong to him – and one may not steal them.
Reb Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, zt”l, offers an explanation to better understand the Kli Yakar’s answer. He proves from the Gemara in Sanhedrin 56b that a ben Noach’s prohibition not to steal differs from that of the Bnei Yisrael. The prohibition not to steal that applies to Bnei Yisrael prohibits any act of taking property that does not belong to you. The actual act of taking the property is forbidden. However, the prohibition on the bnei Noach does not prohibit the actual action of taking someone else’s property; rather it prohibits the usage of someone else’s property. Since the act of taking is not prohibited for him, Noach may have reasoned that he could take the food and provisions now, and not use them until the mabul began and everyone was dead – at which point it would be permitted to use them. To counter such thoughts, the Torah wrote “lecha” to teach Noach that even the act of taking is prohibited if there is no permitted usage at the time of the taking. That is why that pasuk reiterates “kach lecha mikal ma’achal asher yei’acheil” – take for yourself of every food that you can eat. Since the usage defines whether it may be taken, the pasuk stresses that you may eat it. It is unclear if we are to derive from here the general halachos of stealing as it pertains to a ben Noach. Or was this only the case for Noach at that time?
The Meshech Chochmah explains the words “asher yei’acheil” differently. He quotes a Gemara in Chullin 129a that expounds on a different pasuk with the same wording as meaning that the food should not be assur b’hana’ah (forbidden to derive benefit from), and thus may be fed to others. Hashem was telling Noach that he should bring food that was not assur b’hana’ah, since he would have to feed all of the animals.
I would like to suggest an alternate p’shat. Perhaps there was no reason for Noach to think that he would be able to steal other people’s property even at that particular point; yet the Torah said that the building materials and the provisions that were to be eaten in the teivah must not be stolen for a different reason. Since the reason that the mabul was brought was due to robbery – as the pasuk says, “ki mal’ah ha’aretz chamas” (6:13) – the means whereby Noach was to be saved could not be stained with the very sin that brought about the destruction. Therefore, Hashem made a din that the teivah and the provisions not be stolen even though there was no reason for Noach to think that it was permitted.