1. When the people saw that Moses was late in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron, and they said to him: "Come on! Make us gods that will go before us, because this man Moses, who brought us up from the land of Egypt we don't know what has become of him."
In a moment of weakness and vulnerability, on which Rashi says the Satan capitalized by showing the people an image of Moshe actually being dead, the people violate one of the fundamental principles of the Torah, the second of the Ten Commandments, which had just been given to it.
Implied above is an obvious contradiction. If the people were in fact so connected to Moshe, why did they not follow the commandments he transmitted to them? Even further, we see later that when Moshe does come down from the mountain, the same people that so desperately needed him do not come to his aid:
26. So Moses stood in the gate of the camp and said: "Whoever is for the Lord, [let him come] to me!" And all the sons of Levi gathered around him.
We see here that there is a correct way to connect to the leader, Moshe, and an incorrect way. The incorrect way appears to involve a reliance on the physical presence of Moshe. If Moshe is not there physically, then there is tremendous insecurity, and in order to restore a sense of security nothing is sacred or out-of-bounds.
The correct way to connect to Moshe appears to have much less to do with the leader's physical existence, but instead it focuses on what Moshe represents, as Moshe himself states, "Who is for the Lord, [let him come] to me." The focus is on Hashem, and what Moshe teaches us about how to connect to Hashem. The Tribe of Levi maintained that connection, as Rashi comments on the above:
all the sons of Levi: From here [we learn] that the entire tribe was righteous. -[from Yoma 66b]
This difference in how to connect to the Tzadik is at the very essence of the prohibition against idolatry. It is part of human nature to try to grab on to something you can see, that you can touch. However, these things are fleeting, and are a major obstacle in one's relationship with G-d.
The above is reflected in what Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote about the idea of Hiskashrus, the bond between Rebbe and Chassid:
So, too, my late revered father-in-law the Rebbe [Rayatz] explained in a letter that [a chassid] "is able to satisfy his strong desire for a bond [with his Rebbe] only by studying the maamarim [discourses] of Chassidus which the Rebbe delivers or writes; merely beholding his face is not enough." (emphasis added; http://www.sichosinenglish.org/books/proceeding-together-1/05.htm)
Moshe represents Netzach, victory, but also endurance, eternality. It is not a physical endurance, but a spiritual one. It is in this sense that the Talmud states (Sotah 13b), that Moshe Rabbeinu Lo Met, that he did not die.