In this week’s parshah Hashem commands Noach to build a teivah for himself (Bereishis 6:14). Hashem also instructs Noach to take foods and provisions for himself (Bereishis 6:21). In each of these pesukim the Torah uses the word “lecha – yourself.” Generally when the Torah uses the word “lecha,” it is to exclude stolen materials. For example, it uses this word in reference to the mitzvah of taking the four minim on the first day of Sukkos, and the Gemara extrapolates from this usage that they may not be stolen.
If we apply the same principle to Parshas Noach, it follows that Hashem commanded Noach not to use stolen material in building the teivah. But why would such a command be necessary? The Torah warns us about using stolen material for mitzvos because, aside from the prohibition of stealing, one will not fulfill the mitzvah with such items. But building the teivah was not a mitzvah in the ordinary sense of the word.
The Kli Yakar suggests that the Torah felt the need to warn Noach not to use stolen materials because he may have figured that since everyone was going to die and all their possessions were destined to be destroyed, using other people’s items to build the teivah would be okay. Therefore, Hashem said, “lecha” – don’t steal anything.
The Kli Yakar’s answer, however, is difficult to understand. What is the relevance of a person’s eventual death to taking his items before he dies? As long as an individual is still alive and his possessions are still intact, they belong to him – and one may not steal them.
Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, zt”l, offers an explanation to better understand the Kli Yakar’s answer. He proves from the Gemara (Sanhedrin 56b) that a ben Noach’s prohibition not to steal differs from that of the Bnei Yisrael’s. Bnei Yisrael may not take someone else’s property. Bnei Noach, in contrast, may not use someone else’s property. Noach was a ben Noach. Therefore, he may have figured that he could take food and provision items without using them until the mabul began and everyone was dead – at which point it would be permitted to use them. To prevent Noach from acting upon such a plan, Hashem said “lecha,” teaching him that taking is prohibited if there is no permitted usage at the time of the taking. That is why Hashem says, “Kach lecha mikal ma’achal asher yei’acheil – Take for yourself of every food that you can eat” – i.e., now.
It is unclear if we are to derive from here the general halachos of stealing pertaining to a ben Noach of if they applied only to Noach at that time.
The Meshech Chochmah explains the words “that you can eat” differently. He quotes the Gemara (Chullin 129a) which expounds a different pasuk with the same words as teaching us that the food should not be assur b’hana’ah (forbidden to derive benefit from), and thus may be fed to others. Hashem was thus telling Noach that he should bring food that was not assur b’hana’ah into the teivah 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. Why then did Hashem tell him not to steal anything? Because the mabul was the result of robbery. As the Torah says, “Ki mal’ah ha’aretz chamas” (6:13). Therefore, the means by which Noach was to be saved could not be stained with the very sin that brought about the destruction. Therefore, Hashem warned Noach not to steal the building items and provisions for the teivah even though there was no reason for Noach to think that he would be permitted to do so.
The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 26a) states, “Ein k’teiger na’aseh sinager – The prosecutor cannot serve as the defender regarding using a cow’s or calf’s horn as a shofar. Since the calf (i.e., Eigel Hazahav – golden calf) caused destruction, its horn cannot serve as a means of saving us.