The Hebrew word “teiva” is used in two contexts in the Torah, both in reference to a structure that floated on the water. The first is the ark through which Noach and his family were rescued from the flood, and the second is the basket in which Moshe’s mother, Yokheved, hid him when he was an infant and which she then placed in the river to save him from Pharaoh’s decree that all newborn boys should be killed.
A number of similarities exist between the two “teivot.” Both are described as having been lined with sealing material (Bereishit 6:14, Shemot 2:3), and both served to rescue somebody, or a group of people, from a decree of destruction involving water. The crucial difference between the two stories, however, relates to the source of the initiative to rescue the person or persons. In Noach’s case, the initiative came solely from God, who informed Noach about the impending disaster and instructed him to build a teiva in order to be rescued. In Moshe’s case, however, God did not reveal to anyone the idea to try to save Moshe in a teiva. This was his mother’s initiative, prompted by her insistent desire to protect her beautiful child from Pharaoh’s officers who came to kill him. And, even in the ark, Noach survived only through God’s supernatural protection (“va-yisgor Hashem ba’ado” – Bereishit 7:16), whereas Moshe floated in his teiva under the watchful eye of not only Providence, but also of his devoted sister, Miriam, who stood along the riverbank to see what would happen to Moshe (Shemot 2:4).
Rav Amnon Bazak noted how this difference between these two stories of “teivot” represents the broader point of contrast between them. The story of the flood is the story of humanity’s failure to confront evil. The world became overrun by violence and corruption, and the lone man who retained his morality was unable, or at least unwilling, to work towards change. God had no choice but to directly intervene to rescue the world by supernaturally eradicating all living creatures and sparing the only man who did not deserve to perish. The story told in the beginning of Parashat Shemot, by contrast, is one of heroic defiance and firm resolve to combat cruelty. The Torah tells us about those members of the nation who refused to resign themselves to the evil perpetrated by the Egyptian kingdom against Benei Yisrael. The midwives continued delivering healthy babies even after they were ordered to kill the boys; Moshe’s mother refused to watch her son be taken by Pharaoh’s officers to his death; and when Moshe grew older, he refused to stand idly by as his brethren were whipped. Of course, Benei Yisrael could not have escaped from Egypt’s tyranny without God’s supernatural intervention. But the need for a miraculous process of redemption only underscores the heroism of those who refused to surrender or despair, and continued believing in the power of good to defeat the power of evil. As opposed to the period of Noach, who was or felt helpless to resist the evil around him, there were those among Benei Yisrael who refused to back down and insisted on confronting, rather than accepting, the cruelty and oppression to which they were subjected.