For an explanation of the methodology of this series, see the introduction.

"When Joseph was seventeen years old … a lad, together with Bilhah's and Zilpah's sons" (Gen. 37:2)

He behaved childishly...

Peshat (basic meaning):

Rashi: "and he was a lad"
He behaved childishly, fixing his hair and touching up his eyes so that he would appear handsome.

Remez (hinted meaning):

Ba'al HaTurim: "He was a lad" [in Hebrew, "na'ar"]
This word has the same gematria [i.e. numeric value] as the word shoteh - fool. This is intimated by the verse,"and one who utters slander is a fool." (Proverbs 10:18) for Joseph told slander about his brothers to their father.

Derash (interpretive meaning):

Ohr HaChayim: The reason the Torah tells us that Joseph was then 17 is to teach us that if a person had a good dream he should wait up to 22 years for it to become true. Also, Rabbi Chisda describes himself as superior to his friends because he married at 16, when the evil inclination is not as strong as when one is 17. (Kiddushin 29) By telling us Joseph's age at the time when the sale occurred we know that his evil urge was already active in him.

Ramban:"a lad". He was the youngest among them, not as sturdy as his brothers, and therefore needed to be with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah so that they would watch over him.

Sod (esoteric, mystical meaning):

Zohar Vayeshev 180: G‑d hinted to Jacob that these years would be returned to him. "Joseph was seventeen years old"
Joseph was seventeen years old of life at the time he was lost. Throughout the time during which he did not see Joseph, Jacob cried over him. Rabbi Abba said that G‑d hinted to Jacob that these years would be returned to him. Therefore, G‑d gave Jacob another seventeen years of life, during which he lived in the land of Egypt with happiness, honor, and fulfillment; his son, Joseph, king and all his sons there before him. Hence, the text informs us that of Joseph's age when he was lost.

BeRahamim LeHayyim: There is only good. Sometimes it is revealed: Births, Brit Milah, marriage. Sometimes it is concealed: Funerals, Illness, Unemployment. Tov/good is therefore both concealed and revealed.

Tov/goodness has the gematria of 17, which stands for the first 17 years of Joseph's life when Jacob saw only revealed goodness as well as the last 17 years of Jacob's life when he was in Egypt and delighted in his portion. When asked by Pharoah how old he was, Jacob replied:

'The days of the years of my sojournings are a hundred and thirty years; few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojournings.' (Gen. 47:9)

Jacob...had a harder life than his father and grandfather...

Rashi there says: "they have not attained the days of the years of the life of my fathers", in terms of their goodness. That is, Jacob was saying that his very aged appearance was due to his having had a harder life than his father and grandfather — more concealed goodness, and more revealed severity. The Zohar above needs to be reread in these terms.

We can thus understand that according to the above Zohar, for Jacob, those 17 years the Tov/good stood for Chai/life (in Hebrew) = 18, which is the gematria numeric value of the word Tov (17) plus the kollel [1 more for the word itself]. Chai/Life thus is all Tov/goodness: some is revealed, some is concealed.

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