Why did G-d command Noach to build the Teiva? At first glance, this is certainly a trick question. The Chumash itself informs us of the obvious answer that the Teiva will save Noach, his immediately family, animals and birds from the impending flood. Moreover, the construction spans 120 years to prompt onlookers to ask why Noach is building such a structure and hopefully inspire them to do teshuvah and avoid the world’s demise. Yet, it is Rav Moshe Feinstein (Derash Moshe), who informs us of an additional, yet central reason regarding the timing of the commandment itself.
Rav Moshe points out that when G-d first informed Noach he would destroy the world, He did not specify how. At that point G-d commanded Noach to build the Teiva, and only afterwards did He tell Noach of the forthcoming flood. Wouldn’t it be more logical to first inform Noach of the flood and then command him to build the Teiva? Rav Moshe answers that G-d commanded the Teiva in this order to teach that the Teiva should be built entirely for the purpose of fulfilling G-d’s commandment and not to save his family etc.! In fact, G-d could have orchestrated a different means to save a remnant of the world such as on a protected mountaintop.
Rav Moshe writes that from here we therefore derive a central lesson for all mitzvos: even if we seemingly understand the rationale for a mitzvah, it should still be fully observed because of G-d’s command and not for our seeming understanding of the purpose of the mitzvah.
There are four basic reasons why G-d gave us the commandments: as the means to cultivate a relationship with Him, for man’s benefit, to emulate G-d, and to perfect humanity. Yet we learn from Parshas Noach, that the correct perspective to fulfill the mitzvot is purely to fulfill God’s command.
Rabbi Binyomin Forst (Introduction to the Laws of Kashrut) elaborates, “The principle of na’aseh v’nishma, fulfilling and understanding the Jewish laws, does not only mean that we accept the Torah without preconditions, but also that the hearing and understanding of the mitzvah follows and is secondary to its actual fulfillment.”
Click here to download the NLE Morasha Shiur on The Mitzvot and Why They are Detailed.