What We Can Learn From Miriam About Leadership During Times of Crisis
בינה בפייסבוק בינה באינסטגרם צרו קשר עם בינה במייל

What We Can Learn From Miriam About Leadership During Times of Crisis

וַתִּקַּח֩ מִרְיָ֨ם הַנְּבִיאָ֜ה אֲחֹ֧ות אַהֲרֹ֛ן אֶת־הַתֹּ֖ף בְּיָדָ֑הּ וַתֵּצֶ֤אןָ כׇֽל־הַנָּשִׁים֙ אַחֲרֶ֔יהָ בְּתֻפִּ֖ים וּבִמְחֹלֹֽת׃

שמות ט”ו:כ’

Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, picked up a hand-drum, and all the women went out after her in dance with hand-drums.

Exodus 15:20

Oh, how I wish I were able to go out to dance and follow such a unifying figure as Miriam, an older, dedicated, wise and all-knowing sister. Someone who feels the pain of the time and realizes the need for community and unity. Someone who knows how to guard us and raise our spirits in trying times.

We have to remember the turn of events that opened this week’s parasha . The people of Israel had just managed to escape Egypt and pass through the sea that had, miraculously, opened up for them. They realize that the journey has just begun and that the future holds more uncertainty than certainty.

As they finish crossing the Red Sea, Moses breaks into song in praise of God, and maybe a cry of relief of some sort, knowing that this miracle has proven to the Israelites that they can place their trust in him as their leader. Even at this moment though, amidst all of Moses singing, the peak of Shirat HaYam (the Poem of the Sea), is Miriam’s drum and her following of women who bring the people together to join the festivities. 

When one looks at Miriam’s name in Hebrew and breaks it down into its parts, one sees the meaning of her name defining her future, her past, and her being – mar (bitter), yam (sea), merim (uplifting). She is the only woman to be described as a prophet at this point, and, remarkably for a woman in the Bible, has her name mentioned seven times in the parasha . Interestingly, this is the first time she is being called by her name, despite her crucial involvement in the story thus far. 

Through the language of movement and dance, Miriam takes Moses’ words and embeds them in people’s bodies. Their movement now is being led by the joy of overcoming and not by the struggle of leaving Egypt. Instead of being bitter and anxious, the Israelites are strengthened, believing that this might not be the last time they prevail. This is not a war speech or a forceful call to action, but rather a cheerful dance led by the women of the tribes. This is a dance that sweeps people off their feet and speaks from a healing, celebratory, womanly perspective to the people of Israel. Miriam understands that she is one of the people, and wants them to see it in her, too. As she dances with them, she cements herself as a leader that embodies this positive narrative of events.

As the leadership of the Israelites forms in these first days in the desert, Moses takes on the role of setting the path, his older brother Aharon supports and gives guidance, and Miriam takes her place as a community organizer. While her brothers are singularly focused on moving the Israelites out of Egypt and into freedom, Miriam’s focus is placed at the micro-level. She sees the individuals that make up the group. Nevertheless, with just one instrument and her creative senses, Miriam’s optimistic approach is unifying. She intuitively takes on the role of being the first to sing, to dance. She recognizes that this is what her people need – leadership, someone to go first. Her vision moves beyond the technical aspect of bringing people from one place to another. Miriam realizes that the path these people will take has to be one that builds the Israelite community as a whole and not just a gathering of tribes or families. This is the unity which will sustain them through the long journey ahead.

I’ve thought a lot about how this week’s parasha is reflected in Israel’s current events. At this time of war and uncertainty, with entire communities evacuated from their homes and transplanted elsewhere in the country, we will have to strengthen the “Miriam’s” of our country. We can’t allow the challenges and bad news to tear us to pieces. We must remember that our resilience is anchored in our culture and ability to be together, to cry together, and, when the time comes, to dance together.

Written by Ran Oron and translated by Gili Dvash Yeshurun

To read the original in Hebrew, click HERE .

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