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.
In closing a discussion that began on yesterday’s daf (=page), 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 pumpkin now is better than a full-grown pumpkin tomorrow.”
Rabbenu 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 refers to the cucumber, or cucumins sativus, a widely cultivated plant in the gourd family. The cucumber is a creeping vine that roots in the ground and grows up trellises or other supporting frames, wrapping around supports with thin, spiraling tendrils. The plant has large leaves that form a canopy over the fruit. The fruit of the cucumber is roughly cylindrical, elongated with tapered ends, and may be as large as 60 centimeters (24 in) long and 10 centimeters (3.9 in) in diameter.
The kara is the “bottle gourd” or Lagenaria vulgaris, 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 used as dessert nuts.