There was a TV program called HAPPY DAYS. Are Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur Happy Days or Fearsome Days? The Mishnah in Tanit states that our most joyous and most happy Yom Tov is Yom Kippur. But Yom Kippur is the final seal of Judgment Day! So which is it?
These days are called YAMIM NORA'IM. In English it's translated as DAYS OF AWE. Where does the word NORA'IM come from? The first time that the word NORA is used in the Torah is in the story of Yaakov's dream. When he awakes after seeing Hashem, he is filled with awe and says, "How awesome - MA NORA - is this place! This is none other than the abode of Hashem, and this is the gateway to heaven." Yaakov is not really afraid. He has no reason to be, since Hashem has promised to watch over him and care for him.
Yeshayahu also had an experience of seeing Hashem. In that vision, he hears the angels proclaim, "Holy, holy, holy! The Lord of Hosts" (6:3). Those two words - NORA - awesome – and KADOSH - holy - often appear together and seem to have a similar meaning. For example, "His name is holy and awesome" (Tehillim 111:10) and in the prayers of the Days of Awe we say, "Holy are You and awesome is Your name." The Torah defines Hashem as "the great, the mighty and the awesome G-d" (Devarim 10:17). This description has become an important part of our prayers, appearing among other places toward the beginning of every Amida.
These days are also YAMIM NORA'IM in the sense of days of fear, because they are days of judgment. This idea of Hashem sitting in judgment at this time on all humanity is found in the Mishnah Rosh Hashanah (1:2) when it describes Hashem as a commander who reviews all of his troops as they parade before Him and as sheep passing single file before the Shepherd.
The Mishnah’s description does not elaborate and does not speak of fear. That element was brought into our liturgy by the Talmudic sage Rav, in his introduction to the Remembrance verses (Zichronot) of the Musaf Rosh Hashanah Amida. "All creatures will be visited on this day, to remember them for life or death" and the destiny of all nations is then determined, "which for the sword and which for peace, which for hunger and which for plenty."
But the truly terrifying description is found in the piyut, Unetaneh Tokef. The poet made use of the Mishnah and Rav's prayer and borrowed from various Biblical works describing the great day of Final Judgment, and the yearly Day of Judgment of Rosh Hashanah.
The prophet Malachi had called that day, "the great and awesome - HAGADOL V'HANORA - Day of G-d" (3:23). Unetaneh Tokef states, "We shall ascribe holiness to this day, for it is awesome - NORA – and fearsome - AYOM." The poet has defined "awesome" to truly mean something fearful, and describes how all creatures, including the angels, are filled with fear and trembling on this Judgment Day. Because on it is determined "who shall live and who shall die." Kabbalah describes this feeling and emotion as YIR'A SHEL AHAVA (loving fear).
Thus, the Days of Awe also means "Fearsome Days". However, we should remember that the main designation of Rosh Hashanah according to the Sages is Yom HaZikaron – The Day of Remembrance. This is based on the phrase in Vayikra 23:24 - ZICHRON T'RU'A - translated as "a reminder by blowing the Shofar". The sounding the Shofar causes Hashem to remember us for good and to fulfill all of His promises to us.
We pray that Hashem should remember us for good and for blessing on these YAMIM NORA'IM - Awesome Days.