Have you ever wondered why there are so many plaques and nameplates in synagogues and Jewish Community Centers? The plaques often note that this artwork was donated by so-and-so, in honor of so-and-so, or that this mezuzah was donated in memory of the mother of so-and-so. It seems as if sponsorships and honorifics are intertwined with charitable giving.
The reason for this is deeply rooted in the Jewish belief in the ability to bestow personal blessings on others. In Jewish tradition, a person can merit from their own good deeds and from good deeds performed in their name. This is true for both the living and the dead, as deeds done in the name of one who has passed on, still benefit the deceased’s neshama (soul). When someone dedicates an object to charity, or a room in a synagogue, every time that object is used, it is regarded as a merit to benefit the person or the soul of the person in whose name it was sponsored.
Making a charitable dedication is also an excellent means of demonstrating hakarat hatov, recognizing the good that another has done for your benefit. Sponsoring an object in someone else’s honor creates a long-lasting expression of gratitude to that person, which is also why many organizations make a point to list their donors’ names or offer plaques to the sponsors themselves. Although it may be natural to assume that the donor plaques are all about honor and pride, most often it is best to view them as a way of continually participating in the initial act of giving. The sages say that even an act of charity done only for self glorification is still considered a noble act (Mishna Brurah 154:59).
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