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What Can Women Leaders Learn From Biblical Miriam?

02/06/2013 04:14 pm ET | Updated Apr 08, 2013

You wouldn't expect the five book of Moses to promote women's leadership but a patriarchal society led by elders. However, a careful reading of Miriam's actions during the Hebrews Exodus from Egypt might lead you to a dramatically different conclusion.

Miriam was the first born of Amram, the Hebrew slaves' leader and the older sister of Moses and Aaron. She was born at the peak of oppression when Pharaoh had decreed that "every newborn son would be thrown to the Nile." According to the Talmud, Miriam had prophesied that her mother would bring the savior of Israel to life. As a young girl, Miriam challenged her father's decisions to divorce Miriam's mother and ask all Hebrew slaves to divorce their wives in order to avoid more Hebrew bloodletting in the Nile. "Your decree is worse than Pharaoh's," she argued. "Pharaoh decreed that only first-born sons would die; you decreed both boys and girls would never be conceived. He decreed death only for this world; you decreed death for this world and for the world to come." Miriam convinced her father to retract his decision and to remarry Miriam's mother. Moses, leader of the Hebrews during the Exodus from Egypt and recipient of the Ten Commandments, was born soon after.

As a young midwife, Miriam later led the opposition against Pharaoh himself when she refused his order to kill Hebrews' newborn sons. In fact, she was the very first person to oppose Pharaoh, thereby starting the Hebrew slaves' revolution.

At the peak of the Exodus, when the Hebrews slaves saw their Egyptian masters perish in the Red Sea, they understood they had finally achieved freedom. Then Moses and the men of Israel spontaneously sang the famous "Song of the Sea," described in 28 verses in the Book of Exodus. Not only men sung, Miriam, followed by the women, sang a song described in just two verses:

"Miriam, the prophetess, the sister of Aaron took a drum in her hand and all women went out after her with drums and dances. Myriam spoke up to them: Sing to G-d for He overcame the arrogant, the horse with its rider, He hurled them into the sea."

Miriam doesn't need to give orders or instructions, she simply took a drum in her hand, brandishing the symbol of freedom and tens of thousands of women followed her, without exception. They also added dances to the drums, augmenting Miriam's example.

A natural leader such as Miriam doesn't tell you how to think and what to do but rather connects to your inner self, enables you to better understand your own feelings and empowers you to realize your true potential without being afraid of losing control.

Miriam didn't speak just to women. The word lachem in Hebrew translates to "them" and is inclusive of both men and women. In other words, she led the entire people of Israel, men and women express their joy and freedom after two hundred years of slavery.

Miriam is a natural leader's example for all women; she led by connecting rather than by overcoming. She strived for life and fought for life, for the life of her family and her people despite all the suffering. She was ready to challenge the current order; to convince her father and to overcome Pharaoh. She didn't try to mimic men or to please them but simply connected to her true self, to the woman within her, to her inner power of life and she remains an example for women leaders of all times.

Yaacov Cohen, is Co-founder and CEO of harmon.ie, an enterprise social software company and the proud father of five daughters.