The Torah refers to the holiday of Succos by two names. Besides “Chag HaSuccos,” the holiday of temporary huts (Vayikra 23:34, D’varim 16:13 and 31:10), it is also referred to as “Chag HaAsif,” the holiday of gathering (Sh’mos 23:16 and 34:22). Interestingly, it is only the first two times that the holiday is referred to as “Chag HaAsif.” After that (including the numerous times it is mention in Nevi’im and K’suvim), it is always referred to as Chag HaSuccos. The Meshech Chuchmuh (Sh’mos 23:16) provides a compelling reason for this change, based on the Vilna Ga’on’s explanation (Sir HaShirim 1:4) for why we celebrate Succos in Tishray rather than Nisan. After all, the “huts” (in the verse, which our huts are supposed to remind us of) refer to the Ananay HaKavod (“clouds of glory”) that protected us in the desert (see Succah 11b), and they started accompanying us when we left Egypt, in Nisan. After the sin of the golden calf, the Ananim left, and only returned when the building of the Mishkan began, which was on the 15th of Tishray. [Moshe attained forgiveness, and was given the second Luchos, on the 10th (Yom Kippur), he told the nation about the Mishkan on the 11th, the materials were donated on the 12th and 13th (see Sh’mos 36:3), on the inventory of the materials was taken on the 14th and found to be enough (see 36:5); the work itself started on the 15th.] Therefore, we celebrate the return of the Ananim after the covenant was reinstated, which was on the 15th of Tishray. The first two times the holiday is referenced, though, it was prior to this occurring, so the name of the holiday could not yet reflect the “succos” (huts) that would eventually become a primary part of the holiday.
Rabbi Dovid Cohen, sh’lita (Birkas Ya’avetz, Z’manim u’Moadim II) uses this to explain why, when the Torah tells us about the holidays in Vayikra (23:4-44) it seems to close the section (23:37-38) before reopening it and adding the mitzvos of the four species and living in a Succah (23:39-43), as the “holiday” aspect was complete before the 15th of Tishray 2449, even without these mitzvos. [Which leaves us wondering why the four species were either only included in the “addition” or were only added later; would we have had to deal with buying a lulav and esrog while cleaning the house for Pesach? It is possible that the “first day” (23:40) hinting to “the first sins“ after Yom Kippur (see Midrash Tanchuma, Emor, 22/30 and Tur O”C 581) was also only relevant after that first Yom Kippur in 2449.] Rabbi Cohen also applies this to the section of the offerings brought on the holidays (Bamidbar 28:16-29:39), where the mitzvos of Succos aren’t mentioned, even though those of the other holidays are (see 28:17, 28:26, 29:1 and 29:7). [The holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur aren’t mentioned before the Mishkan, so including blowing the shofar on Rosh Hashana and fasting on Yom Kippur is not a change from any earlier mention, and bringing the first fruits is mentioned with the first two Shavuos references.] Since living in a succah wasn’t originally part of the holiday, and the offerings reflect the holiday itself (which was in place even before the requirement to live in a succah was added), it wasn’t mentioned there.
It is a bit curious that the first time Shavuos is referenced (Sh’mos 23:16) it is called “Chag HaKatzir” (the holiday of the harvest) while the second time it is called “Shavuos” (Sh’mos 34:22). This difference becomes a bit more curious when we consider that the holidays mentioned that second time are part of a restatement of the covenant, which was being reinstated after the sin of the golden calf (which is why Sh’mos 23:12-19 so closely resembles 34:17-26), and we would therefore expect the terms for the holidays to match. [This covenant was restated again at Arvos Moav, which is why Sh’mini Atzeres is omitted in D’varim 16:1-16, matching the original covenant (see https://rabbidmk.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/parashas-re-ay-5773/). Although it is called “Chag HaSuccos” there rather than “Chag HaAsif,” it being the “holiday of gathering” is highlighted as well (16:13).] Nevertheless, by the time the holidays are mentioned the second time, the Torah had already been given, and along with it the requirement to bring the Omer offering on the second day of Pesach, which is where the name “Shavuos” (referring to the seven weeks that are counted after it is brought) comes from. This “change” does not reflect a change in the essence of the holiday, only how it is referred to, whereas the name “Succos” reflects a major aspect of the holiday itself, which did not apply until after the covenant was restated to Moshe. Even though G-d had already promised Moshe that He would “do wonders” for Israel, which refers to G-d’s presence dwelling amongst them (see Rashi on Sh’mos 34:10), which manifested itself in the “Ananim,” and at that point in time Moshe only wrote this restatement of the covenant down (34:27), so by the time it was transmitted to the nation the “Ananim” had already returned, since at the time these words were said to Moshe they had not yet actually returned, the holiday is still referred to as “Chag HaAsif” rather than “Chag HaSuccos.”
There is one additional point I’d like to make. The Meshech Chuchmuh concludes his (short) piece by saying that his explanation removes Rabbi Chanina’s question (Rosh Hashana 13a) undermining a Talmudic proof, which was based on the term “Chag HaAsif” teaching us that there was something to be gathered, as there is a Talmudic teaching (Succah 12a) that this term teaches us what type of materials should be used for the succah, so may not refer to gathering at all. Although saying that the reason it was called “Chag HaAsif” is because living in a succah did not yet apply would leave the Talmud’s suggestion that it refers to gathering intact, we are left instead with a question on the Talmudic teaching Rabbi Chanina quotes. How could this term teach us anything about a succah if it was used specifically because the concept of living in a succah in Tishray didn’t apply yet? If anything, this Talmudic teaching disproves the Meshech Chuchmuh’s suggestion!
Several years ago (see page 5 of www.aishdas.org/ta/5764/mishpatim.pdf) I discussed Abarbanel’s question of how the laws of a Jewish maidservant can be compared with those of a non-Jewish servant if the latter hadn’t been taught yet, so couldn’t be used as a frame of reference. I quoted Chizkuni’s approach, that the words can be understood differently, having nothing to do with a non-Jewish servant, and suggested that both meanings were embedded into the Torah’s words. Until the laws of a non-Jewish servant were taught, Chizkuni’s approach was the way the verse was understood, but afterwards, it was able to take on its full meaning. This concept can be applied here as well.
Until the 15th of Tishray in 2449 (when the “Ananim” returned), the holiday could not have been referred to as “Chag HaSuccos.” Instead, it was referred to as “Chag HaAsif,” which was thought to have been referring to gathering crops. After the term “Chag HaSuccos” became applicable, and the only way the holiday was referred to, it became unclear why the term “Chag HaAsif” was used. Did it only refer to the gathering of the crops, a temporary name that would become outdated, or did it also refer to an aspect of the succah, even though this embedded meaning would not be understood until the holiday could be called “Chag HaSuccos”? The Talmudic teaching does not preclude the reason for the name change being a later introduction of the succah; it could merely be teaching us that the reason this name was used initially is precisely because eventually living in a succah will be a primary aspect of the holiday.
The Meshech Chuchmuh is telling us that since even before the holiday could be called “Succos” the term had to make sense, and its plain meaning was that it was the “holiday of gathering,” the Talmud’s original point that there must have been something to gather is valid, even if the term also teachus us something about the succah.
[It could be argued that once “Chag HaAsif” is only a temporary name, and the term is needed to teach us which materials to use in the succah, there could be a different “temporary” meaning to “Chag HaAsif,” which has nothing to do with gathering. If this is true, Rabbi Chanina’s question stands even after the Mechech Chuchmuh’s explanation of the name change. But if the Meshech Chuchmuh wants to insist that he could think of a valid approach that the Talmud hadn’t thought of (as otherwise they could have answered Rabbi Chanina’s question rather than finding a different proof), who am I to argue?]