What an amazing juxtaposition! The (near) miraculous events in Egypt that we witnessed on news broadcasts over the past week coincide with Parashat Ki Tissa, the Torah reading for this Shabbat. The circumstances of the two are wildly different, yet the fundamental human concerns in each setting overlap to an extraordinary degree.
First we need some context for the parashah, which contains the "molten calf" narrative. In Exodus 24:18, Moses had gone up Mount Sinai and remained there "40 days and 40 nights." Then, in a series of cutaway scenes that don't really advance the plot or chronology, the Torah readings of the previous two weeks (Terumah and Tetzavvah) provide lengthy, detailed instructions for establishing the cult: for building a portable Tabernacle to be used during the desert wanderings, for establishing the priesthood, and for the initial stages of sacrificial worship. In other words, the ground is all set for the Israelites to begin their life as a "religious community." Moses had continually asked Pharaoh to release the people so that they might worship God and now, at last, after 400 years of servitude to the Egyptian ruler, all the pieces were in place for that to happen. Our parashah opens by providing still more support for Israel's emerging cultic system. Moses was to conduct a census to be accomplished by collecting a half-shekel from each of the adult males, presumably an early building fund project. Now, surely, everything would be in order for the new religious structure.