Moses was the greatest of all prophets. For example we're taught
that, "while the other prophets" -- who were themselves quite astounding --
"received their prophecies in a dream or vision," Moses, on the other
hand, "received his while wide awake" (Yesodei HaTorah 7:6), and he spoke
to G-d face-to-face "like one speaks to his friend" (Exodus 33:11). We'll
revisit Moses' prophetic aptitudes later on, but for now let's discuss his
We're almost hesitant to apply the term in his case, since he was also
termed a "man of G-d" (Deuteronomy 33:1) because he was so holy and so
toweringly great. But he was indeed mortal and human.
In any event, at one point G-d was quite angry at Moses and said to
him, "Because you did not believe in Me enough to sanctify Me in the eyes
of the people of Israel, you will not bring this congregation into the
land that I have given them“ (Numbers 20:12), as “you rebelled against My
word at the waters of Meribah“ (Numbers 20:24) and “you did not sanctify
Me in the midst of the people of Israel“ (Deuteronomy 32:51). But what
exactly did he do wrong?
We learn that there had come a point in the desert, on our way from Egypt
to Israel in Meribah, when there wasn't any water to drink and the people
were desperate. They started to get wistful about Egypt and demanded that
Moses (and Aaron, too) ask G-d for help. G-d indeed appeared to Moses and
told him to speak to a huge rock sitting in the midst of the people
and "order" it to gush forth with water. But rather than speak to it,
Moses said indignantly to the people, "Hear now, you rebels! Must we fetch
you water out of this rock?" and he struck the rock in anger -- twice.
Water did indeed gush out and everyone had enough to drink (see Numbers
So, what was his sin? As Rambam put it, Moses "inclined toward an
extreme ... by expressing anger". But, has any of us not gotten angry? So
why should Moses have been punished so seriously for what, at bottom, was
just an instance of being immoderate? Rambam explains that "when someone
of his caliber does something like that, he profanes G-d’s name", which is
indeed a serious sin. After all, "the people studied every move he made
and everything he said", so he should have been a better role model.
Rambam goes on from there to address another aspect of the nature of the
harm done, but his main point is that Moses most especially should have
striven for equibalance, since it's so fundamentally important for our
Divine service, and he didn't.
He then ends this chapter by reiterating the point that we're to all be
introspective and to try to be equibalanced, since "one who judges his
actions all the time and strives for balance will be a person of the very
highest caliber. And he’ll accordingly draw close to G-d, and have
satisfied His wishes, which is *the* most perfect form of Divine service."