But the L-rd said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the Land that I have given them.” (Bamidbar 20:12)
Our commentators have struggled to identify the serious infraction that brought about Hashem’s wrath upon Moshe and Aharon. Ohr Hachaim suggests 10 possible transgressions, but other commentators question every one of the proposed offenses. Regardless of the true reason, we learn the serious ramifications of any sin. The two great people who struggled and toiled on behalf of the people for decades were punished severely for a misstep that is difficult to identify. Even 515 potent tefillot of Moshe were not enough to overturn the verdict and absolve the holy siblings of a wrongdoing we have difficulty identifying.
Harav Yechezkel Sarna brings examples of isolated incidents in which the actions or words of one person changed the course of history and the nature of creation. On the sixth day — the first day any human walked the planet — Adam Harishon ate a forbidden fruit and death was introduced into creation. One small act by one individual — and creation changed drastically forever. The death of everyone who ever died was the result of that one deed. Avraham Avinu was described as “My beloved” by Hashem. In spite of all the good he did on behalf of Hashem to publicize His name and to draw people to His service, he asked one question — “How do I know that I will inherit the Land?” — which resulted in 400 years of brutal hardship and servitude for his offspring.
Here we see that Moshe, the true servant of Hashem, the shepherd of Israel and the one who brought down the Torah from Heaven to our people, a man whom the Torah describes as unequaled in prophecy, suffered a harsh decree for one sin. The ramifications for the Jewish people are enormous. If he had led us into the Land, we would have possessed it forever. Had Moshe built the Beit Hamikdash, it could never have been destroyed. One lapse — one sin — and everything changed. This is what the Gemara means when it states, “Praiseworthy is the one who performs one mitzvah, for he is the decisive element in bringing the world to the side of merit. On the contrary, one who does a sin weighs the balance scale to the side of liability” (Kiddushin 40b). When tempted and in doubt, consider that the one act you are about to do or not to do can influence everything forever.
We are taught that the power of good is at least 500 times more potent than the workings of evil. How influential and powerful an individual can be without much effort! The passuk says, “It is not in Shamayim… rather in your mouth and your heart to do” (Devarim 30:12–14). A good word, a positive thought, can change creation. A man like the Chofetz Chaim, living in a small Polish village called Radin, influenced the entire world positively in his lifetime and beyond. Desire and good will enable any individual to light up the entire universe.
There are no small deeds. What you do is big and important to everyone.