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The gemarra in Shabbos 55a says a rule: אין מיתה בלא חטא, no one dies without having sinned. As an attempt to refute this rule, the gemarra brings a baraisa that says:

מֵיתִיבִי: אָמְרוּ מַלְאֲכֵי הַשָּׁרֵת לִפְנֵי הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא: רִבּוֹנוֹ שֶׁל עוֹלָם! מִפְּנֵי מָה קָנַסְתָּ מִיתָה עַל אָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן? אָמַר לָהֶם: מִצְוָה קַלָּה צִוִּיתִיו וְעָבַר עָלֶיהָ. אָמְרוּ לוֹ: וַהֲלֹא מֹשֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן שֶׁקִּיְּמוּ כׇּל הַתּוֹרָה כֻּלָּהּ, וּמֵתוּ! אָמַר לָהֶם: ״מִקְרֶה אֶחָד לַצַּדִּיק וְלָרָשָׁע לַטּוֹב וְגוֹ׳״!

The Gemara raises an objection from the following baraita: The ministering angels said before the Holy One, Blessed be He: Master of the Universe, why did You penalize Adam, the first man, with the death penalty? He said to them: I gave him a simple mitzva, and he violated it. They said to Him: Didn’t Moses and Aaron, who observed the whole Torah in its entirety, nevertheless die? The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to them, citing the verse: “All things come alike to all; there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked; to the good and to the clean, and to the unclean; to him who sacrifices, and to him who does not sacrifice; as is the good, so is the sinner; and he who swears, as he who fears an oath” (Ecclesiastes 9:2). Apparently, death is not dependent upon one’s actions. Everyone dies.

The implication is that Moshe and Aharon didn't deserve to die, as they never sinned. Indeed, the gemarra responds that the one who said the rule אין מיתה בלא חטא holds that Moshe and Aharon sinned at the incident with Moshe hitting the rock.

Walking away from this gemarra I would conclude that there's an opinion that Moshe and Aharon never sinned. Nevertheless, the Maharsha and Ben Yehoyada ad. loc. say that everyone agrees they sinned, just that they're disagreeing if the sin they committed was worthy of death.

Does anyone interpret the gemarra like I did? The motivation for the Maharsha and Ben Yehoyada is the incident with Moshe and Aharon is pretty explicit, so it makes sense to say that the gemarra had a different intent. Nevertheless...

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  • I thought the punishments handed to Adam and Eve were to apply to ALL their generations. Thus all mankind must earn sustenance by the "sweat of his brow" and all women must bear children in pain. And all humans must die, as a consequence of that first aveira. Moshe and Aaron, even if pure on their own, are part of that decree. This is an exception to the "third generation" principle. Jan 21 at 22:36
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Great question!

It is definitely not a clear cut picture.

By Aharon the Midrash writes two very insightful points:

In Vayikra Rabbah 20:12 it writes:

אָמַר רַבִּי יוּדָן מִפְּנֵי מָה נִסְמְכָה מִיתַת אַהֲרֹן לִשְׁבִירַת לוּחוֹת, אֶלָּא מְלַמֵּד שֶׁהָיָה קָשֶׁה לִפְנֵי הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מִיתָתוֹ שֶׁל אַהֲרֹן כִּשְׁבִירַת לוּחוֹת.

Rabbi Yudan said: Why is the death of Aharon placed next to the breaking of the luchos (the tablets of stone)? Rather, it is coming to teach you that the death of Aharon was as hard for Hashem as the breaking of the luchos.

So whilst, this doesn't outrightly say that he didn't sin, the fact that it was "difficult" for Hashem implies that to some degree he wasn't deserving of death, and yet Hashem felt that it was necessary.

However perhaps more conclusively, the Midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah 19:17 writes:

כָּךְ אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא הַלָּלוּ זְקֵנִים שְׁנֵי צַדִּיקִים לֹא עָשׂוּ דָבָר חוּץ מִדַּעְתִּי, וְעַכְשָׁו כְּשֶׁאֲנִי מְסַלְּקָן אֵינִי מְסַלְּקָן עַד שֶׁאֲנִי מוֹדִיעָן, לְכָךְ נֶאֱמַר: יֵאָסֵף אַהֲרֹן. אָמַר לוֹ רִבּוֹנִי הַנַּח אוֹתוֹ אֵצֶל בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן וּבְנֵי גָד, אָמַר לוֹ (במדבר כ, כד): אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, מִיתָתוֹ מְעַכֶּבֶת מַתְּנַת הָאָרֶץ, רְצוֹנְךָ שֶׁלֹא יָמוּת וְלֹא יִכָּנְסוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל לָאָרֶץ, לְכָךְ נֶאֱמַר: אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.

So also did the Holy One, blessed be He, say, “These two righteous men have done nothing without my knowledge. Now that I am taking them away, I shall not take them away until I inform them.” It is therefore stated (in Numb. 20:24), “Aaron will be gathered.” [Moses] said, “My Master, leave Aaron [alive and have him stay on the other side of the Jordan] with the Children of Reuben and the Children of Gad.” He said to him (in Numb. 20:24, cont.), “’Which I have given to the Children of Israel,’ his death is required for the giving of the Land of Israel. Do you want him not to die and they not come into the Land of Israel?” Hence it is written (in Numb. 20:24), “which I have given to the Children of Israel.” (sefaria translation, my emphasis)

So in this second source, the implication is that Hashem had to make Aharon die to warrant the Jewish peoples' entry into the land of Israel. Whether this death is due to any sins is not mentioned, but the fact the Moshe could question it, does imply to some degree that Aharon was not worthy of death, and by extension could be deemed as per the Gemarah as being not sinful.

By Moshe, there is a very interesting piece brought in the first cheilek of Beis Hamidrash by Rabbi Jellinek which brings down the Midrash of Moshe's death and a conversation between Moshe and Hashem as to why he was worthy of death. It brings on p.118 the following response:

אמר לו הב"ה די לך אם תשאר חי יטעו בך ויעשו אותך אלוה ויעבדוך

Hashem said to him, if you remain alive, they (the Jewish people) will make a mistake and they will serve you as a god.

Hashem goes on list a number of righteous people throughout history all who died and reasons with Moshe that they all died and therefore how can he wish to live.

So to return to the question, there are two examples where we see that their death were not warranted by their sins per se but were needed. In the case of Aharon, to allow the Jewish people to enter the land of Israel, and with Moshe, to prevent him from being revered as a deity.

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  • All this sounds more like the Maharsha and B"Y than like the poster: They may have sinned, but it might not have been enough to bar them from Eretz Yisrael.
    – MichoelR
    Jan 21 at 13:59
  • @MichoelR - Or that they had to die because of other reasons and not their sins
    – Dov
    Jan 21 at 14:50
  • Don't understand why it isn't Moshe (rather than Aharon) that must die before the Jews could enter Israel, because of the decree made after the incident with the rock. Jan 21 at 22:32
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A possible source for an opinion that Moshe did not sin is a Midrash in Bamidbar Rabbah Parshah 19. While it does not explicitly say that Moshe did not sin, it offers a different reason for his being barred from entering Israel, namely so that people will not say that if Moshe abandoned the people in the wilderness and entered Israel with a new group it must be that the original group has no share in the World to Come. If an alternate reason is needed, it may be because (according to this opinion) Moshe indeed is considered to not have sinned.

אמר לו הקב״ה למשה באיזה פנים אתה מבקש ליכנס לארץ משל לרועה שיצא לרעות צאנו של מלך ונשבית הצאן ביקש הרועה ליכנס לפלטרין של מלך אמר לו המלך אם את נכנס עכשיו מה יאמרו הבריות שאתה השבית הצאן אף כאן אמר לו הקב״ה למשה שבחך הוא שהוצאת ששים רבוא וקברתם במדבר ואת מכניס דור אחר עכשיו יאמרו אין לדור המדבר חלק לעולם הבא אלא תהא בצדן ותבא עמהן שנאמר ויתא ראשי עם צדקת ה׳ עשה לכך כתיב לא תביא את הקהל הזה אלא שיצא עמך

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  • I don't see that this follows. That they sinned doesn't necessarily mean that the sin alone would have been enough to bar them from Eretz Yisrael.
    – MichoelR
    Jan 21 at 13:57
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    @MichoelR You are mechavein to the Eitz Yosef there.
    – Alex
    Jan 21 at 13:58

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