One of the more famous lines of the Star Wars franchise comes at a point when the mentor and teacher, Yoda, cajoles the protagonist, Luke, into attempting a task that the latter has already claimed cannot be done. Cowed into submission, Luke says, “alright, I’ll give it a try.”
To this, Yoda responds, “No! Try Not. Do, or Do Not. There is no Try.”
That line has become so famous because it is a powerful, motivational aphorism. A person who knows something can be accomplished will work harder than the one who “gives it a try,” accepting the likelihood of failure. So, Yoda tells us, we must approach problems with a “can-do attitude,” because then we are much more likely to succeed.
It is indeed motivational, even inspirational. So isn’t it interesting that our Torah basically teaches us the opposite?
Our reading this week begins with Moshe telling the nation that he has placed before them “the blessing and the curse.” “The blessing, if you will listen to the Commandments of Hashem your G-d that I have commanded you this day; And the curse, if you will not listen to the Commandments of Hashem your G-d, and you turn from the path which I have commanded you this day…” [Deut. 11:27-28]
Note that the blessing is promised if Israel will merely “listen,” whereas regarding the curse, Moshe appends to “you will not listen” an additional condition: “and you turn from the path…” Why are the two cases not parallel?
The Be’er Mayim Chayim and Malbi”m both answer (per the Mayanah Shel Torah) that “a good thought is blended into action”—that Hashem gives credit to a person for trying, for having the good thought, even prior to accomplishing the successful action. This is not true in the opposite case: there is no curse for merely contemplating a bad deed, but only after acting upon it, “and you turn from the path.”
The idea that Hashem gives blessing while holding back the curses is a beautiful thought, but these verses also contradict the idea that “there is no try.” According to the Torah, there is reward simply for “giving it a try.” So isn’t that a demotivator, in contrast to the wisdom of Yoda?
In actuality, it is precisely the opposite: what the Torah is telling us is far more motivational.
Yoda exists in a world of fantasy and make-believe; out in the real world, failure is a constant of human existence. Does every motivated student get into the best school? Is the most motivated runner, swimmer, or cyclist the one who wins the race? Does every business or charitable activity succeed based solely upon the level of motivation of its leaders? Motivation is key, but no guarantee.
What the Torah tells us is: try anyway, because that is all that matters. The question is whether we are doing what Hashem wants from us. Hashem wants the “good thought,” He wants the attempt. Whether it leads to the outcome we envision or not is in Hashem’s hands. Hashem is the one who brings success, not “my strength, and the power of my hand” [Deut. 8:17]. Effort is all we have!
This is the ultimate motivator. If you don’t try, failure is guaranteed. If you do try, you have already succeeded. So the decisions we must make concern where to put our efforts, what is the most productive way for each of us to use our time—but we must try. And we know of many people who tried what others deemed impossible, and succeeded, because they knew that what Hashem wanted from them was the attempt.
Let us all keep trying, knowing that spiritual success is guaranteed!