When the children of Israel demanded water, amongst their other complaints, Moshe and Aaron were told by G-d to gather the assembly and speak to the rock before their eyes, and the rock would provide water. But Moshe made a mistake and struck the rock with his staff. For that , Moshe and Aaron were told they would not go into Israel but would die in the desert.
R’ Eli Munk quoted from R’ SR Hirsch who discussed the role that miracles played in the journeys in the wilderness. He wrote that the miracles were a way for the people to initially learn about G-d, but at some point they had to assume responsibility for their own destiny. The situation with the rock provided an opportunity for the staff to be replaced by the word, but Moshe failed to comprehend it correctly, and was perhaps too dependent on direct interventions from G-d. R’ Hirsch wrote that the time had come for the people to take a share in building their future when direct intervention was to be replaced by the people’s knowledge of the revealed will of G-d. Moshe failed to sanctify G-d in the eyes of the people and also failed to recognise the power of G-d’s word in the hearts of the people.
Yeshayahu Leibowitz wrote that Moshe never asked for forgiveness for his mistake, but rather asked on 3 separate occasions for the decree to be annulled. This indicated that Moshe did not consider that he had sinned. Leibowitz quoted from Psalm 106 that “they angered him at the waters of strife, and Moshe suffered because of them”. The leader has a share in the sins of his generation, for the sins committed under his leadership, referred to in present day terms as the assumption of ministerial responsibility. Leibowitz lamented the fact that the leaders of today do not always acknowledge their link with the errors of their subordinates, unlike Moshe who, when the people died as a result of their sins, died with them even though there was no sin on his part.