We read in Parashat Lekh-Lekha of Malki Tzedek, who is identified as the king of a Shalem and a “priest” who greeted Avraham with food and wine upon his triumphant return from battle (14:18-19). Malki Tzedek praised Avraham, proclaiming, “Blessed is Avram to the Supreme God, who owns heaven and earth.”
Numerous writers sought to explain why Malki Tzedek chose to describe God specifically as the one “who owns heaven and earth” in this context. Why did he refer to the Almighty this way in his congratulatory blessing to Avraham?
Rav Moshe Walner, in Derushim Le-cheftzeihem, suggests that this description speaks of the ideal of combining “heaven” and “earth,” of merging the physical and spiritual realms. Just as God resides in the heavens but is directly involved in all worldly affairs, down to the minutest details, similarly, we are to strive to combine the “heavens” – the realm of spirituality – with “earth” – our mundane, worldly affairs. The Torah here describes Malki Tzedek as “kohein le-Kel Elyon” (“a priest to the Supreme God”), a term which perhaps suggests a spiritual quality that keeps a person withdrawn and apart from ordinary, worldly matters. When Avraham returned from a successful military campaign, Malki Tzedek marveled at Avraham’s ability to combine the spiritual and worldly realms, to live a life of lofty ideals which are practically applied to mundane pursuits. This ability was highlighted when Avraham waged a successful war. Despite being a renowned spiritual leader, Avraham took up arms and went out to battle when this was necessary to rescue innocent captives. He understood that spirituality demands not disengagement from the world’s problems, but rather active involvement and efforts to help solve them. Malki Tzedek humbly acknowledged that whereas his own life of spirituality was withdrawn from worldly affairs, Avraham succeeded in achieving spiritual excellence by applying his spiritual ideals to solving real-world problems. Avraham’s spirituality was not a life of seclusion in a protective environment of sanctity, but rather a life of intensive engagement in world affairs, working to bring holiness to those affairs, rather than to hide from them.
And thus Avraham was declared to be “blessed to the Supreme God, who owns heaven and earth.” Avraham embodied the ideal of “konei shamayim va-aretz,” the model set by God Himself of merging the heavenly and earthly realms. He teaches us that spirituality is to be applied to, and not kept away from, the “real world,” and is specifically intended to enhance our worldly affairs, not to isolate us from it.