The Torah portion includes instructions for taking a census (by each person donating a half shekel); instructions to make the Washstand, Anointing Oil, and The Incense for the Mishkan, the Portable Sanctuary; appointing Betzalel and Oholiab to head up the architects and craftsmen for the Mishkan; a special commandment forbidding the building of the Mishkan on Shabbat (people might have thought that they would be allowed to violate the Shabbat to do a mitzvah …).
The Torah portion continues with the infamous story of the Golden Calf. The people wrongly calculated that Moses was late in coming down from Mt. Sinai and the people were already seeking a replacement for him by making the Golden Calf (there is a big lesson in patience for us here). Moses sees them dancing around the calf and in anger breaks the Two Tablets; he then punishes the 3,000 wrongdoers (less than .1% of the 3 million people), pleads to G-d not to wipe out the people, requests to see the Divine Glory, and receives the second set of Tablets of the Ten Commandments.
Parshat Parah (Numbers 19:1-22) is read on the Shabbat following Purim. These verses deal with the Red Heifer used in the spiritual purification process at the time of the Holy Temple. This issue is important at this season of the year, since in looking forward to Passover, every Jew is careful to maintain spiritual purity in order to partake in the holiday offerings.
Many authorities regard this reading as a Torah precept.