(The question remains how the Ramban understands qorbanos that are less related to sin.)
Narvoni: The Rambam doesn’t speak of qorbanos as caused by the practice being avodah zarah. Rather, the practice expresses an inate human limitation. And if one doesn’t allow an expression for avodas Hashem, the need would lead people to avodah zarah.
Abarbanel: There are many proofs that qorbanos are part of an ideal, and not a concession to human limitation.
I then suggested a variant on the Narvoni’s idea that doesn’t fit the Rambam’s words, that the need to give in worship is a human need, but a positive thing, not a limitation. Any real relationship seeks expression in giving — whether it’s qorbanos or flowers. (And in both cases, the primary gift is the act of giving; Hashem doesn’t need the qorban and my wife tends not to take a second look at the flowers.)
So much for the summary.
1- The word “qorban” is the “-an” (object related to) suffix added to /qrb/ (to come close, the root of the word “kiruv”, to cause to come close). However, this has (at least) two meanings: an object that expresses a closeness already felt, or one that causes a closeness.
Perhaps this is reflected in our machloqes. The Rambam, especially as understood by the Narvoni, sees a qorban as an expression of a feeling already there, one which we therefore see in avodah zarah, and which the person needs in order to feel like a worshipper. The Ramban sees a qorban as a tool for acheiving closeness by unifying all his abilities to this end.
2- The Meshech Chokhmah (introduction to Vayiqra) finds a role for each explanation. The Rambam’s notion of weaning was the role of bamos, of altars built to G-d on mountaintops, outside of the mishkan. The weaning period ended when the Beis haMiqdash was dedicated in Yerushalayim, which is why bamos became prohibited at that time. However, we failed, avodah zarah and bamos thrived throughout the first Temple. Qorbanos in the Beis haMiqdash is called a rei’ach nikho’ach (a pleasant smell before Hashem) because they were to unify the worlds, as explained by the Ramban.
In light of the two meanings we gave to qorban, this explains why bamos were not mandatory — they were only for an expression of a feeling already there. As it says in parashas Vayiqra, “ish ki yaqriv mikem qorban — a person, when he brings from you a qorban”, when he chooses. However, the qorbanos at the mishkan or beis hamiqdash are not if/when, but obligatory. Because they create the motivation even when it’s not already there.
3- Allowing the Meshech Chokhmah’s idea that the Rambam’s and Ramban’s ideas can coexist, we can reach an interesting conclusion. According to the Ramban, the point of qorban is about it being an action more than the physical object being offered. Perhaps this is true even when the qorban is Rambam-esque, an expression of a human need. Like the husband who brings flowers, the primary gift is the giving itself, the statement “I need to give”.
4- What a far cry from the 9 seconds given to Qorbanos between “Atah Hu” and “Rabbi Yishma’el” in the minyan I attend every morning. Where’s that “need to give” that marks having a true relationship with the Creator?
I don’t think all the thoughts above will help. I think the gap between mind and heart is too great for philosophising to create an emotional need. Emotions are build slowly, through repetition. Perhaps we should pick one tefillah from Qorbanos, maybe the Tamid that the Shacharis we are davening derives from. And not only having these kavanos when saying it, but also simply thinking, “Ribono shel olam, I can’t even feel the loss of qorbanos. Please help me!”