According to the great 20th-century sage Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Judaism considers prophecy a “norm,” such that “each person is obliged to aspire to this rank [of prophet], that every man should make a supreme effort to scale the mountain of the Lord, until he reaches the pinnacle of revelation of the Divine Presence.” Behind this claim is Soloveitchik’s belief that Judaism is “democratic to its very core,” and therefore prophecy must at least potentially be available to every Jew. Alex Ozar delves into this argument, its precedents and parallels in Jewish thought, and its implications:
Soloveitchik argues [that] prophecy must be practical in nature: that is, while prophecy certainly may involve non-normative elements as well, “any encounter with God . . . must be crystallized and objectified in a normative ethico-moral message.” Because anyone can understand concrete moral instruction—and can in principle come to learn it on his own—prophecy is democratic and thus halakhically legitimate insofar as it is realized in the form of concrete moral instruction. “The democratization of the God-man confrontation was made possible by the centrality of the normative element in prophecy.”
But, notes Ozar, there is a problem inherent in this claim: the talmudic doctrine that Moses alone of all the prophets received legislation from God. The Almighty will not issue further laws through subsequent prophets. So how can prophecy be “normative” if it does not involve halakhah?
If prophecy is to take the form of concrete instruction, therefore, it must take some form of concrete instruction other than that of commandments, or statutory rules, per se. . . . In the background here is a distinction between two modes of reality. There is the realm of objective, impersonal, external fact—that part of reality ascertained by a detached observer and describable in terms of mathematical formulas. And there is the realm of the personal, subjective, and spiritual. . . . Think of the experience of a sunset versus an analysis of the wavelengths and refraction dynamics at play, or of building a relationship with someone versus manipulating his behavior through mechanical stimuli.
For Soloveitchik, it is in the subjective, spiritual, and qualitative world, rather than in the quantitative one, where we meet God and hear His word.
As Rabbi Abraham Isaiah Karelitz (a/k/a the Ḥazon Ish) puts it, “The good cannot be known by the root of the intellect alone. Rather, [one must] choose the good until one is fit for the prophetic faculty, and then God will command him as to the prohibited things from which he must desist and the good acts which he is obligated to do.” There is no comprehensive manual of rules for the moral life to which we enjoy access. To be morally responsible, therefore, we must commit to the good in advance of grasping its requirements in full; in doing so, we open ourselves to the divine insight we need in order to progress further.