If it's true that it's the effort that counts, then BP should get a Congressional medal of honor. The effort they've invested in the attempt to control the oil spill that has caused the colossal nightmare now affecting the Gulf of Mexico and its coastline communities is nothing short of herculean, as is their effort to recover and clean up the oil already spilt.

In a recent regulatory filing, BP claims to have spent $930 million in this effort so far—an amount that will certainly be dwarfed by the time all's said and done. They have no less than 22,000 people working on the disaster, and 1,300 vessels on the site of the spill. And they've tried one far-fetched innovative idea after another in their attempts to accomplish what is almost impossible—capping a spewing oil well one mile down in the ocean.

All of these efforts, so far, have unfortunately failed. But they certainly get an A for effort. No?

So, is what we've been told all along true, that effort is the main thing? Or is the realization of the desired result of utmost importance? This is a question whose answer, obviously, has important ramifications in our personal lives as well.

The sixth Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, once recounted the following story about his father and predecessor, Rabbi Shalom DovBer of Lubavitch:

In 1905, a rabbinical conference was assembled in Vilnius, with the participation of many of the greatest leaders of European Jewry. The issue on hand was an attempt by the Czarist government to impose certain requirements on rabbis and Torah teachers, requirements that would compromise the integrity of Jewish tradition.

The assembled rabbis were united in their opposition to this new edict. The Russian Minister of the Interior, however, made it known that if the rabbis didn't withdraw their opposition to the new measure, he would unleash pogroms on 101 cities throughout the country.

As the conference was nearing its close, Rabbi Shalom DovBer requested permission to speak. He spoke passionately and forcefully. Though well-aware that the government had planted informers in the room, he protested the injustice and the threatened barbaric pogroms. He then emotionally declared that "we must announce before one and all that only our bodies are in exile, but not our souls." In all areas that affect Torah and mitzvot, our only sovereign is G‑d Almighty Himself....

Rabbi Shalom DovBer finished his impassioned talk and fell to the floor in a faint.

As soon as he left the hall, he was placed under house-arrest.

Soon thereafter, Rabbi Shalom DovBer was visited by a fellow attendee of the conference, Rabbi Chaim of Brisk, one of the preeminent sages of the time. Rabbi Chaim entered the Rebbe's room and found him sobbing. "Lubavitcher Rebbe," he asked, "why do you cry? After all, we did all that we could..."

"Yes," Rabbi Shalom DovBer responded. "But the objective was not accomplished."

An individual can be completely and sincerely devoted to his divinely ordained mission, faithfully toiling and trying—without any concern for the outcome. He is secure in the knowledge that he has done all within his capabilities. He constitutes a great employee—he certainly cannot be faulted.

Effort earns a person lots of brownie points. After all, all that can be expected of us is to try our hardest—and leave the rest to Him. A halachic principle confirms this idea: If one was prevented from doing a mitzvah despite his best efforts, "G‑d absolves him." Furthermore, in such an instance, the person is rewarded as if he had performed the mitzvah.

But he hasn't.

Then there's the individual who eschews the status of a (loyal) employee. He has a broader vision; rather than concern himself with whether he's done all he can, with whether he can be faulted or not, his single concern is that G‑d's will be done. And if it's not done, the reasons and excuses are irrelevant. By way of example: the doctor could be doing his absolute best—that will not placate the mother of a sick child. She just wants her child to be well again.

I'm reminded of a letter I saw recently, written by the Rebbe in 1974 to a chassid who authored a book whose publication was being postponed due to various logistical issues that cropped up. This individual apparently justified himself to the Rebbe, explaining that the book was "90% complete" and he was doing his best...

The Rebbe responded with perceptible dissatisfaction. Your 90%, the Rebbe explained, is 0% to the reader, who until the moment of publication has no benefit from all your effort!

The difference between these two ways of thinking is not just theoretical; it expresses itself in a very different way of acting.

My neighbor who cannot afford to pay her rent, the one whom I really tried to help, but could not come up with the funds...

That person who has consistently repelled all my efforts to show him the beauty of his Jewish heritage...

Can I sleep in peace knowing that I've done my part? Or do I lay awake in my bed, deeply troubled, thinking of perhaps another way to find some money for my neighbor, or another angle with which I can approach my acquaintance—and thereby help them?

When an untold numbers of people are suffering – whether physically, financially, emotionally or spiritually – and the world is desperate for Redemption, can I simply congratulate myself because I've done my job (even if that is somewhat true...)?

Or must I move heaven and earth until the mission has been accomplished?