Unless the LORD builds the house,
the builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves. — Psalm 127:1–2
There is a Hebrew phrase that Jews around the world have repeated for millennia: “B’ezrat Hashem,” “With the help of God.” This isn’t something that people say occasionally, rather it’s something that is said daily, multiple times. Whether we are going to meet friends for coffee or on our way to an important business meeting, everything we do is b’ezrat Hashem. From the big stuff to the smallest issues, everything we do requires the help of God.
Jewish tradition teaches that Psalm 127 was written just after King David was informed that he would not be the one to build the House of God. It had been David’s dream to build the Temple in Jerusalem, but it was a dream that he would never realize. Instead, David’s son Solomon was given the task: “He is the one who will build a house for my Name . . . ” (2 Samuel 7:13). As disappointed as David must have been at that moment, he accepted God’s decision with grace. In this psalm, David shares with us the clarity that allowed him to accept God’s will and move on.
David writes: “Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain.” In other words, no matter what we do or how hard we try, we will never succeed at something that is not the will of God. If God didn’t want David to build the Temple, then no matter what David did – and he had plenty of funds and manpower to accomplish the job – he would never succeed.
David gives us another example, saying that unless God is guarding a city, all of the watchmen are useless. David shares one more example that especially hits home for us. No matter how early one gets up in the morning, or how late one goes to sleep, or how hard one works all day, it does not determine how much money one will earn. God will provide for whom He chooses, regardless of how hard we try.
Now, of course, this isn’t to say that our actions and efforts aren’t necessary. Our personal commitment is critical and beloved by God. Yet we have to put our efforts into the proper perspective. They are only as successful as God wills them to be.
When we are successful, we must acknowledge that it is only because of God’s help. We must remember to thank God and enjoy our successes humbly. On the other hand, when we fail, that is also the hand of God. We must accept our disappointments like David did — with humility, acceptance, and grace, knowing that God’s will reigns supreme and everything He does is for the very best.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President