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 humanity.
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 20:1-11).
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.”