Contributed by: Albert Setton
The prohibition of eating hames on Pesah is slightly perplexing. One can understand the need to eat massa, as it commemorates the miracle that occurred to Am Yisrael at the time of the redemption. However, there is seemingly no reason that should prevent one from eating hames if he so wishes. Why is hames assur (forbidden)?
The Radbaz (Chief Rabbi of Egypt circa 16TH century) explains that since there is no obvious reason for the issur of hames, the explanation must lie on a symbolic level. He explains that hames symbolizes the yeser hara (evil inclination). Hames is dough that was left to rise, similar to the yeser hara that festers in a person and slowly rises and causes him to commit more sins if not kept in check. Just as man must watch over his dough so that it doesn't rise, so too must he constantly watch over himself and assess his level of avodat Hashem (service of God). For this reason we search for the hames, which symbolically represents a search within ourselves for sins and spiritual deficiencies.
However, if we accept the explanation of the Radbaz, an obvious question arises. Since hames represents the yeser hara, it should be forbidden all year long, not only on Pesah! How can something evil be permitted the whole rest of the year?
The answer to this question is based on one of the most fundamental principles in Judaism. In the first paragraph of Shema,:וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל מְאֹדֶךָ