Jacob dreams of a ladder reaching up to the heavens with angels going up and down and receives dramatic assurances from G-d. Upon awakening, he proclaims, “Surely, Hashem is present in this place and I did not know!”(Genesis 28:16)
The Hebrew here seems redundant: V’anochi (and I) lo ya’dati (I did not know). And I – I did not know?!
The Kotzker, and other great rebbes, understood that we can only perceive the presence of Hashem when our over-inflated egos don’t get in the way!
“Surely, Hashem is present in this place because my I, I did not know” Or – I didn’t become overly absorbed with myself.
This is how the Kotzker spun Moses statement in Deuteronomy 5:5, “And I stood between you and Hashem at that time.” We have to know who we are – but have to make sure that we don’t let ourselves get in the way. The one who is self-absorbed and whose ego takes center stage crowds out Hashem.