In closing a discussion that began on yesterday’s daf, the Gemara argues that usually people are not willing to invest effort in something today in the hope that they might derive possible benefit at some point in the distant future. In expressing this idea the Gemara uses a common folk expression butzina tav mi-kara – as Rashi explains, “a young gourd now is better than a full-grown gourd later.”
Rabbeinu Tam objects to Rashi’s explanation, arguing that there are a number of places in the Gemara that clearly suggest that butzina and kara are two different plants. He argues that although the butzina is smaller than the kara, since it ripens more quickly people prefer it to the larger kara.
Butzina is the Aramaic term for zucchini, a summer squash of the Cucurbitaceae family. It has been mistranslated as cucumber. It is a long and narrow vegetable that grows up to 80 centimeters long. It has light-green skin with dark-green stripes and is covered by thin fibers. It can be eaten raw or cooked.
The kara is the “bottle gourd” or Lagenaria siceraria, a summer vegetable of the gourd family. It usually grows on the ground, although sometimes it is hung to grow down from poles. It is a large vegetable (40-50 cm in length; 25-30 in width), which grows in the shape of a bottle or pitcher. If it is harvested young, it can be cooked and eaten. Its seeds are eaten as a snack.
Gourds have a high nutritional value, although if they are harvested late, they become hard. For this reason, and also because of the fibers that they contain, gourds may be hard to digest, particularly for people who are ill and need to be eating easily digestible foods.