Paras refers to Persia (Iran). The sages tell us that before Moshiach comes Paras will fall at the hands of Rome (according to another opinion: Rome falls at the hands of Paras). On an external level, all eyes are on the simmering confrontation around Iran's nuclear development. But the chessboard of world politics is merely the playing out of an internal spiritual drama of the Jewish people. Based on the words of our sages and the teachings of Chassidus, we can understand the inner dimension of the fall of Paras.
I. The Gemara in Yoma 10a
“Rebbi states that Rome is destined to fall at the hands of Persia. Rav states that Persia is destined to fall at the hands of Rome. Question: Can the builders (Paras, who permitted the rebuilding of the Holy Temple) fall before the destroyers (Rome, who destroyed the Temple)? The sages answer: If the King (Hashem) so decrees.”
II. Rabbi Yonasan Eibshetz, ztvk"l (Yaaros Dvash)
“At certain moment the time will come when Moshiach should have already arrived but the redemption has not yet come. The Moshiach will ask how it could be that the time for redemption has arrived and he still undergoes sufferings? The response that he will receive is that he must wait for nine months. Why? In order to wait for the fall of Persia at the hands of Edom, and then the final redemption will come.”
III. Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shabbos Vayeira, 5752
“According to the announcement of the Rebbe, my father-in-law, leader of our generation, Moshiach of our generation, that all areas of our Divine service throughout Golus have been completed and perfected, we are standing ready to greet the righteous Moshiach. This means that all impediments and obstacles have been nullified.”
IV. Mitteler Rebbe, Toras Chaim, Beshallach p.312
“[The level of Moshiach elevates Torah and Mitzvos that are performed to refine the 288 sparks of kedusha that fell]. But there is a second level of mitzvos which is from the essence of performing the mitzvah alone even without intent and reason and secrets at all. Which means [mitzvos performed] not for the sake of tikkun or refinement of the 288 sparks at all, but rather only because He said and His will is done. Because this is the essence, similar to the mitzvos we will do in the time to come which are above the level of refining sparks.
What is the connection between the “decree of the King” that Persia must fall and the Yaaro Dvash that says that when Moshiach should have come we still have to wait for Persia's fall? What is the relevance of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s statement that our divine service is done and the Mitteler Rebbe’s teaching that there is a special level of mitzvos that do not refine sparks at all?
All the Divine Sparks Have Been Elevated
In 5752 (late 1991) the Lubavitcher Rebbe made the astonishing statement: that the divine service of the Jewish people in exile—refining the sparks of kedusha that had fallen into this lowest of worlds—has been completed. Even the tshuva of the Jewish people has been done. The Rebbe himself said that it is completely beyond understanding how Moshiach hasn't come. That was 15 years ago! How much more inexplicable it is today!
This situation fits the description of the Yaaros Dvash (quoted above), that a moment will come when Moshiach should have arrived, but he is still delayed. The reason: we are waiting for the fall of Persia (Paras). In order to understand this, we must understand the spiritual dimension of the nation of Paras.
What is Paras (סרפ)
Every nation in the world (70 distinct entities, according to Torah) is an expression of a different underlying spiritual quality. For example, the nation of Bavel (Babylon) is related to "bilbul"—confusion, the confusion the hinders a Jew's divine service. Yavan (Greece) had their spiritual root in the klipa of chochma, impure wisdom. When the Jewish people were challenged by these nations in the physical world it was a reflection of being challenged by their spiritual sources. When the Jews overcame their spiritual source, these nations fell. So we must ask: what is Paras (Persia/Iran) and what is its spiritual source?
Serving Hashem for Reward
According to Rashi on Bereishis 10:2, Paras is Tiras, the seventh son of Yefes ben Noach. Paras is from the Hebrew root which means reward. As explained in Chassidus, Paras (פרס) is from the word פרוסה meaning a "slice", a fraction of something much greater (a slice of the whole pie). In this case, it refers to the Divine revelation in Gan Eden that results from the sparks of G-dliness that are refined through learning Torah and performing mitzvos.
The neshoma gets tremendous motivation from the spiritual reward it receives for doing mitzvos. We can find evidence of this in the Shema that is recited twice daily: the second paragraph of the Shema mentions reward and punishment for keeping the mitzvos (“I will give the rains in their times”, etc.) whereas the first paragraph does not (instead emphasizing the service of G-d “b’chol ma’odecha”—“with everything you have”). Serving Hashem for spiritual reward is clearly a lower level of divine service, yet as a preliminary stage of development it is completely “kosher”.
Serving Hashem in order to receive spiritual reward is acceptable as a preliminary step, as a Jew trains himself to desire Torah and mitzvos and a life devoted to serving Hashem. But it is not the ultimate goal. The very first chapter of Pirkei Avos, third Mishna, states:
“Antigonus of Socho received the Torah from Shimon the Righteous. He used to say: Be not like servants who minister unto their master for the sake of receiving a reward [p’ras סרפ], but be like servants who serve their master not upon the condition of receiving a reward [p’ras סרפ]; and let the fear (awe) of Heaven be upon you.”
The time comes when the level of serving Hashem for spiritual reward (expressed in the second paragraph of Shema) must give way to the higher level of serving Hashem for its own sake (the first paragraph of Shema). The sages of this Mishna are instructing us not to serve our Master (Hashem) for the "reward", the spiritual revelation that is generated by our divine service in refining sparks of kedusha. This revelation is merely a "slice" (p’ras). The revelation of the essence will only be experienced after the coming of Moshiach and the revival of the dead.
Based on this, we can understand why the fall of Paras precedes the redemption: because as long as our neshomas are enjoying the "slice" of the reward for refining the world through mitzvos, they are distracted, so to speak, and delaying the ultimate goal: the coming of Moshiach and the revelation of the complete essence.
The preceding explanation also helps us understand why the Yaaros Dvash describes a time when Moshiach should have already arrived—meaning that the refinement of the sparks of kedusha has been finished and thus Moshiach should come to bring about the elevation of these sparks. Because it is exceedingly difficult for Paras to fall as long as the mitzvos are refining the world and providing divine revelation to the neshomas in Gan Eden. Only when this aspect of reward ends, after the refinement of the world through Torah and Mitzvos has been completed, are neshomas able to properly forget about the reward and instead perform the mitzvos for the sake of the essence of the mitzvah (as described by the Mitteler Rebbe above), which is the level of "only because He said and His will is done". Or, as the sages say in the Mishna, not for a reward but because we have let the fear (awe) of Heaven be upon us.
And from this we can see why the sages in the gemara give the reason for the fall of Paras at the hands of Rome as "if the King so decrees"—if the mitzvos are done simply because they are the decrees of the King, not for a reward, this brings about the fall of Paras!
Why Paras Falls at the Hands of Rome
Why does Paras fall at the hands of Rome? To answer this we need to identify the spiritual dimension of Rome.
Rome is “romemus”, meaning aggrandizement. Chazal tell us that Rome descends from Edom. Edom represents the root of desire. The present fourth and final exile of the Jewish people is in Edom (which includes within it all the previous exiles). As such, Rome and Edom are in opposition to the mission of the Jewish people which is to reveal G-dliness. While the power of Paras, the “kosher” desire to serve Hashem for spiritual reward, had allowed the Jews to rebuild that second Beis Hamikdash, the power of Rome/Edom destroyed it. This is Edom as representing the desire of a Jew’s yetzer hara for worldly pleasures; Rome as manifested in haughtiness and self-aggrandizement.