Bubblicious & Lo Signov
Reviewing the halachos concerning theft has resensitized me to the incredibly high standard that the Torah sets for us. It also made me recall some of my actions as a child in elementary school that I am not so proud of. While I don't recall exactly what age I was, I do remember my first experience stealing a pack of strawberry-flavored Bubblicious bubble gum at a small neighborhood supermarket. A few years later, my childhood-friend and I pulled off our largest heist which consisted of shoplifting six Star Wars figures from the mall. I am happy to report though, that my days of shoplifting ended there.
However, I noticed that the Torah also considers it to be a subtle form of theft theft when I recently borrowed a co-worker's pen without his knowledge, solely to sign a document and then returned it to his desk.
Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 182:2 states, "Taking a thing of trivial value, that no one would mind, like taking a splinter of a bundle of wood, in order to use it as a toothpick, is permitted. However, it is an act of piousness to refrain from this as well."
Additionally, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 182:13 states, "It is forbidden to use anything belonging to your fellow without his knowledge. Even if you are certain when the owner finds out he will be happy and elated that you used it, because of his good feelings to you; nevertheless it is forbidden. Therefore, if you enter the orchard or garden belonging to your neighbood, it is forbidden to pluck fruit without the owner's knowledge, even though the owner of the orchard and the owner of the garden is a dear, cherished friend, and certainly will be happy and elated when finding out that you enjoyed his fruit. Nevertheless, since at the present time he knows nothing of this, you are enjoying it unlawfully. It is necessary to warn the public regarding this; for they break this rule for lack of knowledge."
When I looked into this matter a bit further, I found this:
An employee may not use any of his employer's property for personal use without permission from the employer. Therefore, an employee may not use the office telephone, copier, or any other business equipment for non-office use.
If the employee knows that the employer permits such use, even if only reluctantly, he may do so.
If the employer does not permit personal use, but it's well known that many of the workers use his property without permission when he is not looking, it is still prohibited. The fact that "everyone does it" does not in any way create a "Minhag HaMedina" (custom of that society) that would permit such a thing.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov [Sefer HaMiddos, Geneiva u'Gezeila A:4] adds an interesting insight on the topic of theft from a mystical perspective. Since a person's possessions contain sparks which are specfically connected to his neshoma, Rebbe Nachman taught that one steals something from another person he is not just stealing a physical object, "Stealing, even indirectly, a penny's worth from one's friend is akin to taking his soul and the souls of his children."
Reflecting on my past and also these teachings, I found a teaching from the Pele Yoetz that appears to sum up this issue, "Since it is difficult to return a stolen item which has already been consumed, one who fears Hashem will be carefull not to steal anything even in the slightest amount."