Because of his position of leadership, Moses is judged extremely harshly when he sins.
Moses's sin may not have been so great. If anyone else had done the same, they surely would have been given a second chance. However, for all the same reasons that we may feel that Moses should have received some compassion, he was held to the highest accountability for his actions. As the leader of the people, he was expected to be the paragon of faith and virtue.
We may understand that he was human, and grief, frustration, weariness and stress can certainly add up to make us less then our best selves. But in positions of high leadership, the tough decisions and constancy of action are expected even during times of weakness. That's what separates a great leader from a good leader. Moses was great leader, but had his moments of weakness. For that, he was held accountable.
Moses had spoken against God when Israel had wanted meat, and had said to God, "If You would slaughter all the sheep and oxen in the world, would it suffice?" To say that God could not provide enough meat, is a greater sin than not speaking to the rock but hitting it instead. Why did God not punish Moses then, and sentence him to death in the wilderness? Because the sin of the rock was committed before all of Israel, and thus led to a desecration of God's name. God will forgive all sins, but Chillul HaShem, the sin of desecrating the Divine Name, God will not forgive. (Tz'enah Ur'enah).
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