"Hashem said to Moshe [in the aftermath of the sin of the Golden Calf]: ‘Go, lower yourself’" (Shemot 32:7). Rav Elazar explained [that it was not just that he should descend Mt. Sinai but] that he should go down from his high level. He was in effect saying: "The only reason that I gave you such greatness is because of Israel. Now that Israel has sinned, why do you need [such greatness]?" Immediately, his strength waned, and he did not have strength to speak. Once he heard Hashem say: "Release Me, and I will destroy them" (Devarim 9:14), Moshe said [to himself]: "The matter is up to me." He strengthened himself in prayer and asked for mercy. Ein Ayah:
The leader has to be appreciated by the people he leads. Therefore, even if the leader is many and significant levels higher than the nation, it is still important that there should be some shared status between them.
Since before the sin, Bnei Yisrael were on a high level, Moshe’s level was extremely high. However, after they sinned, had Moshe’s level stayed as high as it had been, he could not have led them because he could not have influenced those so far beneath him. That is why Moshe was required to lower himself so that he would be able to continue to lead.
At first Moshe thought that Hashem meant that he lost his own personal greatness because of Bnei Yisrael’s spiritual fall. After all, there are times that a leader’s greatness comes only from the power of the community he leads, whereas personally, he is nothing special. In contrast, the personal level of other leaders is far above their community, and they can relate to the people only to the extent they lead them. Moshe thought that he belonged to the former category and that this is what Hashem meant when He said: "The only reason that I gave you such greatness is because of Israel." However, when Hashem said, "Release Me, and I will destroy them," Moshe realized that Hashem’s personal regard for him was intact. Therefore, he should make great efforts in his prayers despite Bnei Yisrael’s much decreased level. Holding Back Hashem?
(condensed from Ein Ayah, Berachot 5:54) Gemara:
"Now leave Me" (Shemot 32:10). Rav Avahu said: If the pasuk would not have not written it, we could not have said it. It teaches us that Moshe, as if it were literally possible, grabbed Hashem like a person grabs another person’s garment and said to Him: "I will not release You until you relinquish Your rights and forgive them." Ein Ayah:
The principle behind this matter deals with the apparent contradiction between what apparently should have happened and what did happen. From Bnei Yisrael’s perspective, they had lost so much of the level Hashem planned for them that they were fit to be destroyed. This would clear the way for another complete nation, which was fit for the purpose Hashem had intended, to take their place.
However, this was prevented by Moshe, who toiled to use his great powers to raise Bnei Yisrael out of their lowly position so they could eventually reach the level they needed. With hope for their future restored, the contemplated destruction became unnecessary.
The parable of someone holding on to the garment is fitting. If the one being held wanted, he could have taken off the garment and been free to act. By not doing so, the one who was being held sent a message that he was willing to be held back. It is the Divine Providence that prepares great people within the nation to make the improvement of the nation an option, instead of destroying it and leaving the way open for a replacement. With the efforts of this great man, in place of total destruction comes a flow of charity, as the pasuk says: "He [the wise person] saved the city with his wisdom" (Kohelet 9:15).