Leah’s son Bo is autistic. He recently started middle school and has had a difficult time. Kids sometimes stare at his unusual behavior, he doesn’t get invited to birthday parties and most days he eats lunch alone.

One day Leah received a photo of her son eating lunch with a visitor to his school. Leah asked her friend who send the photo, “Who is Bo’s lunch companion?”

Travis Rudolph

Turns out it was Travis Rudolph, a wide receiver with the Florida State University (FSU) Seminoles who was visiting Bo’s middle school with a few other FSU footballers. Spying Bo sitting all alone at a lunch table, Travis joined him, offering Bo a slice of his pizza.

Overwhelmed with emotion, Leah Paske posted the picture on Facebook, noting, “This is one day I didn’t have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone. He sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes. Travis Rudolph thank you so much, you made this momma exceedingly happy, and have made us fans for life!"

Leah’s post quickly went viral, picked up by social media and news outlets around the world. Soon, Leah had the chance to thank Travis in person. “I was so grateful” she explained in an interview. “To go into a crowded lunch room where I’m sure he was being flagged down and waved at and that he would choose Bo to sit with, I don’t even have words to express how grateful I am.”

Since Travis’ visit, she confided, Bo no longer eats by himself. “Actually, yesterday, in the cafeteria he was sitting at a table full of girls…. He was the most popular kid in the room … he had a seat at the table full of people.”

Travis Rudolph said that he never thought his gesture would have such an effect. “I didn’t even recognize that it would be this big…. I just wanted it to become aware that everyone is the same, and one man can make a difference.”

Travis Rudolph’s gesture occurred just before the start of Elul, the Jewish month that precedes Rosh Hashanah, and it serves as a timely reminder of what we can accomplish during this crucial time.

Elul is a period for introspection as we examine our actions and prepare ourselves to start a brand new year. It can feel overwhelming to contemplate altering our behavior. But the key to lasting growth isn’t making sweeping changes all at once; it’s to have the courage to reach out to others, to perform small acts that move us in the direction we want to pursue.

The great sage Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, also known as Rambam, recognized this. Each person contributes to the world and can make life-altering difference.

Since we can’t know the full extent of each action we take, the Rambam advises us to act as if the world were completely balanced between good and evil, and it is our behavior that will tip the scales. We never know what acts we perform will change the lives of others; we never know exactly how the decisions we make will affect those we touch.

Sometimes, as in the case of one unhappy Florida boy who no longer eats lunch alone, we can find that our seemingly small actions aren’t quite so small, and that by reaching out to others we have made the world a profoundly better place.