There is a common custom not to inscribe Torah books with “From the Library of John Doe,” “This Book Belongs to . . .” or similar Hebrew equivalents. Instead, the name itself is written with no preamble. Some have the custom to preface their names with “LaHashem haaretz umeloah,” “The earth and all that fills it belong to G‑d,”1 or the acronym lamed, hay, vav.

The custom is attributed to Rabbi Yehuda Hachassid (“the pious”) 1150-1217, who writes in his ethical will that people should “not write in a holy book that it is theirs. Rather, they should write their name without writing it is theirs.”2

Nothing Is Ours

Some explain that this custom is a fitting reminder that nothing truly belongs to us; it is only entrusted to us. Accordingly, one should follow this practice not just with regard to Torah books, but with all personal belongings.3

Others, however, question that if this was the sole reason, then why would Rabbi Yehuda specifically single out Torah books?

Lend Books to Others

They therefore explain that Torah books are unique in that one should be especially willing to lend them out.4 Indeed, according to Jewish law, if there are no other Torah books available for the public to learn from, a rabbinical court can actually force an individual to make his own library available to the public.5

“The Earth and All That Fills It is G‑d’s”

The common custom is that before writing one’s name in a Torah book, one writes, “The earth and all that fills it belong to G‑d.”

This is in keeping with an incident recounted by Rabbi Chiya bar Abba in the Talmud:6

One time I was hosted by a homeowner in Laodicea, and they brought before him a table of gold that was so heavy it required sixteen people to carry it, and there were sixteen chains of silver attached to it, and there were bowls and cups and pitchers and flasks attached to it, and there were all sorts of food, and delicacies, and fragrant spices on it. And when they placed it there they would say: “The earth and all that fills it belong to G‑d, etc.”7 And when they removed it, they would say: “The heavens are G‑d’s heavens, but the earth He gave to mankind.8

Rashi explains that they would first recite the verse ascribing ownership of earth to G‑d, implying that we may not benefit from this world until we bless Him. They would then recite the second verse, insinuating that it is only through G‑d’s largesse that we have this benefit.9

By inscribing our Torah books with a declaration that all we have truly belongs to G‑d, we are reminded to always use “our” possessions for the betterment of others.