In this week’s parsha we find that Miriam dies and the Jewish people immediately complained about a lack of water. They had water until then due to the merit of Miriam. However, now that she was no longer alive, that merit was gone and with it the water. They were in the desert, so what were they to do?
G-d told Moshe to take his staff and gather the people around a rock. Moshe was commanded to then talk to the rock and water would come forth from the rock. Instead of speaking to the rock, Moshe hit the rock and water came forth. G-d was angry with Moshe for disobeying Him. What exactly was the sin of Moshe? That is disputed by several commentators. However, what is not disputed is that Moshe somehow sinned and was punished for his sin. His punishment was that he would not be permitted to enter the Land of Israel. Rather, he would die in the desert.
Why was being forbidden to enter the land of Israel such a bad punishment for Moshe? It is true that there are Mitzvos that can only be perfomed in the Land of Israel. But, these Mitzvos are meant to raise the spiritual level of a person. Moshe did not need these Mitzvos to climb the spiritual ladder. Moshe was the greatest human being who ever lived. He was on a higher spiritual plane than anybody else. It would seem that he had nothing to gain from the Land of Israel. So, what kind of punishment was this?
In life, one always must strive to rise to the next level. A person must always put forth the effort to accomplish more. Even a person who is great cannot just stand still. If a person stands still, he/she will actually be taking a step backward because they are not advancing.
Moshe had not performed the Mitzvos that apply only in the Land of Israel. He desperately wanted to add those Mitzvos to his portfolio because it was an opportunity to move forward – to rise to the next level – and perhaps even higher spiritually than he was, which was already the highest that any human being has ever achieved. If these Mitzvos would be missing from his ledger, he felt that he would be sliding backward. That was unacceptable to Moshe. He always was advancing. Retreat was not a word in his dictionary.