The sacrificial order that plays such a prominent role in Biblical Judaism is explained by Rambam in a way that raises many eyebrows. His rational-historical approach renders the worship a relic of ancient history. However, it is precisely that aspect which makes the ritual so meaningful.
Rambam (Moreh Nevukhim 3:32) contends that the sacrificial service was intended to wean the Jewish people from idolatry. Rather than sacrifice animals to idols, they could only offer sacrifices to God in a specific place for specific reasons. In other words, sacrifices are a concession, a clever plan to benefit ancient Israelites.
Ramban (Lev. 1:9) strenuously objects to this approach. While it is clear, as Ritva (Sefer Ha-Zikaron, ch. 9) points out, that Ramban misread Rambam, his response is still cogent. Ramban points out that, according to Rambam, sacrifices have no inherent value. Yet the Bible seems to contradict that in a number of places. Most importantly, it renders the sacred acts a meaningless ruse. Rather, Ramban contends, sacrifices have great importance to each individual, reminding sinners of the severity of their transgressions.
Some later thinkers defends Rambam’s approach in one way or another (see Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Vayikra, chs. 1-2). However, they cannot remove his approach’s key weakness. According to the Rambam, sacrifices lack inherent meaning. True, they direct your worship, prayers and hopes to God. Your sacrifice is surely accompanied with your prayers and the entire process serves to centralize your focus to God. But the acts themselves are relics of an ancient time. When the sacrifices are renewed in the Messianic Era, what will we think on the rare occasion we bring our own sacrifice to the Temple? How will the priests come to terms with their duties during their one week of Temple service every six months?
I propose that Judaism’s connection to the past is its strength, not its weakness. When we eat matzah and maror, drink four cups of wine and tell the Exodus story to our family, we are bringing the past into our present. We are remembering our origins so that their lessons will direct us in the present. Abba Kovner said, and Nachum Segal repeats every day, that we must “remember the past, live in the present and trust in the future.” Without giving the past its due, we would fail to use it as a guide to the future. Pesach is about embracing the past as a tool. So, according to the Rambam, are sacrifices.
From its start, Judaism was a protest against idolatry. Judaism’s main, but certainly not sole, contribution to civilization was monotheism. Avraham introduced it to the world and much of the Bible recounts the Jewish people’s struggles to maintain loyalty to it. We succeeded and have remained committed to it for millennia, even undergoing martyrdom for it. Like the beginning of Maggid in the Haggadah (“In the beginning our forefathers were idol worshipers”), sacrifices remind us that Judaism has always been a revolt against polytheism. It is a sign of the core religious belief and a commemoration of the long struggle to uphold it. As such, sacrifices are extremely meaningful, even at a time where very few pagans exist.